I think we can all agree:
We know it… but does the rest of the world agree?
So we decided to find out a little more about pickleball’s place on the world stage, and answer some burning questions.
Like is pickleball an Olympic sport?
And if not, when could we see a pickleball Olympics?
And how does a sport qualify for the Olympics anyway?
Let’s find out!
Is Pickleball an Olympic Sport?
No, pickleball is currently not an Olympic sport. And it’s not represented yet in the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). However, pickleheads worldwide are busy campaigning to have it included in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
What is Pickleball?
Photo by Stephen Rahn on Flickr, marked as Public Domain (CC0 1.0)
Pickleball is the entertaining blend of badminton, ping-pong (a.k.a table tennis) and tennis that has exploded in popularity over the last few years.
Players use paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball that looks like a cross between a wiffleball and a tennis ball. The court resembles a badminton court and is about a third the size of a tennis court.
Invented in the summer of 1965 by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, the game is designed so everyone can play, regardless of physical ability. This inclusivity, along with the game’s simplicity, why pickleball has spread like wildfire in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in America, according to The Economist. With pickleball courts popping up all over the country, the sport was enjoyed by nearly 5 million pickleball players in the US in 2021.
During the pandemic, pickleball grew in popularity, thanks to its beginner-friendly appeal and buzz on social media.
Pickleball tournaments are growing too with both the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and the American Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) hosting 153 events across the United States every year. And with a projected prize pool of over $5 million for pickleball tournaments held in 2022, it's clear that more and more people want to play pickleball competitively.
With numbers like those, it’s surely only a matter of time before we see pickleball in the Olympics, right?
Well, let's have a look at the process of getting a sport accepted to the hallowed halls of the Olympic Games.
How can a sport qualify for the Olympics?
To make the grade and become an Olympic sport, pickleball has to first be accepted by its governing body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This, in turn, means that the sport has to be governed by its own International Federation (IF). Complicated already, right?
Luckily, a pickleball pioneer called Steve Sidwell, along with his dedicated colleagues, are working tirelessly at the IFP (International Federation of Pickleball) to make sure pickleball meets all the criteria for acceptance into the Olympic games.
That’s one box ticked—the sport has an IF that governs the rules and specifications of the sport.
Next, the Olympic Charter requires that it has to be widely practiced in at least 75 countries across four continents, for the male game, and 40 countries across three continents if it's played by female athletes. It also has to follow the the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code.
Finally, and most importantly, it has to cross the ‘threshold of international popularity." This is all about pickleball’s appeal.
The Olympic committee needs people to watch their competition, so any sport that’s included must have enough popularity among the general public to warrant its place in the world’s biggest sporting event.
Does pickleball meet IOC criteria?
So, does pickleball make the grade?
We already saw that pickleball has an International Federation (IFP). But how many members does it have? It turns out that this is a difficult number to nail down.
The federation’s website says that it has '60 members and growing'. Wikipedia says it has 59 members across 5 continents. Either way, we’re very close to the 75-member quota!
As for the anti-doping rules, this is simply a matter of administration—the IFP and other pickleball organizations need to make players aware of the strict rules of the World Anti-Doping Code and make sure that these rules are followed.
Next, “international appeal”. We know that here in the USA the sport is absolutely booming, and many other nations are following suit.
Only time will tell how quickly the sport will spread, but with national leagues everywhere from Armenia to Aruba, global adoption looks quite promising.
How often are new Olympic sports added?
Sports come and go from the Olympics. Sometimes there’s a good reason they’re removed from the lineup, as with live pigeon shooting at the Paris Olympics, 1900 (won by Leon de Lunden of Belgium).
But other times, the loss of events seems a real pity. From 1912 to 1948 you could win medals in art, including poetry and painting. Tug of war was also included from 1900 to 1920. Imagine a giant tug-of-war at the modern Olympics!
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also considers new sports for induction on a continual basis. Skateboarding made its debut in 2020, for example, and breakdancing will be included in Paris 2024.
The Top 5 Sports Recently Added to The Olympics
The Top 5 Sports Currently Under Consideration for The Olympics
When will Pickleball Become an Olympic Sport?
So by 2024, we’ll be able to watch people win gold for breakdancing, but when will pickleball become an Olympic sport?
According to experts, pickleball won’t qualify for inclusion in the Paris Games in 2024, but there’s a good chance that by 2028 there will be enough international popularity to merit its inclusion in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed!
Other Popular Sports not Currently in the Olympics
Pickleball isn't the only hugely popular sport that hasn’t yet been made Olympic, however.
American football, cricket, and polo aren’t on the lineup, although cricket did make an appearance in 1896, but just that once.
The Top Five Most Popular Sports Not in the Olympics
What is the Largest International Pickleball Competition?
If you want to watch some seriously competitive USA pickleball while you wait for it to become an Olympic sport, you’re in luck! The best and biggest pickleball tournament on earth is the World Pickleball Games, an international event to be held at the Austin Pickle Ranch in Austin, Texas from May 2-7, 2023. Watch the world’s top players duke it out with their pickleball paddles as they dink, volley, lob, and smash their way to the trophy.
The Bottom Line
So there we have it, pickleheads. Pickleball is not yet an Olympic sport, but we won’t have to wait long before it is.
Let us know if you have any further questions in the box below. We’d also love to hear whether you think pickleball should become an Olympic sport, and why!
The first ever pickleball Olympics is soon to become a reality, and (all going to plan) it’ll be on home soil in Los Angeles. See you there in 2028!