Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Julie from Philadephia. Julie Wonders, “Why is softball not a sport in the olympics?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Julie!
Speaking of sports, exactly how many sports are there in the Olympics? Although it might seem like a straightforward question to answer, the number of sports in the Olympic Games can vary from one set of games to the next. The number can even be debated within a particular Olympic Games, depending upon how sports are defined!
The first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The first games featured nine sports: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. Those nine sports remain part of the Summer Games today, but there have been many changes over the past century.
In the distant past, the host country had a powerful influence over which sports would be included. Today, however, those decisions are made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Over the years, many different sports have come and gone, including demonstration sports that were tried out but never made part of the official games.
The IOC uses several different terms to describe the competitions that take place during the Summer Games. An "event" is a specific competition that results in the awarding of a medal. For example, the 100-meter freestyle is an event.
The 100-meter freestyle is part of the wider "discipline" of swimming, which also includes various other events, such as breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke. Swimming is one of the disciplines of the "sport" of aquatics, which also includes other disciplines, such as diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo.
When counting sports, some people only count sports as defined by the IOC. This is why you may hear some people say there were 28 sports in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Others, however, count each discipline as a separate sport, which explains why the official website of the 2016 Summer Olympics listed 42 sports.
In other words, the count of 28 sports includes aquatics only as a sport. The count of 42 sports, however, counts swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo as four separate sports.
To be included as a sport in the Olympic Games, the IOC tries to ensure that a sport or discipline is popular among both men and women across a large cross-section of the world. As new sports arise, they can start out as a demonstration sport before being officially added to the games.
The list of sports can vary from one set of games to another. As new sports arise, such as beach volleyball, they can be added to the games. As other sports decline in popularity, they might be removed from the games. For example, both baseball and softball were removed after the 2008 Olympic Games.
Just because a sport is removed from the games doesn't mean it's gone forever, though. Enthusiasts can lobby the IOC for a revival of a sport. In 2016, for example, golf returned to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence. Likewise, rugby made an appearance after having been gone for the past 92 years.