The International Olympic Committee announced the addition of five new sports to the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan. These include baseball, softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing. Controversy surfaced when pole dancing, poker and foosball were proposed as possible additions.
The Global Association of International Sports Federation decided to grant Observer status to seven sports, among them pole dancing, foosball and poker. Observer status is a crucial first step into admittance as an Olympic sport. “The Observer status has been designed as a first step in a clear pathway towards full GAISF membership,” according to the GAISF website. Many sports enthusiasts expressed disapproval with this move, seeing the additions as an unwanted step towards Olympic recognition.
Scott Schochler, John Brown University cross country coach, said, “I don’t know how many of the countries around the world are gonna be real in favor of the whole concept of pole dancing and some of the things that have been associated with that. . .That one’s just weird for me, and I don’t know if the Olympics is the right venue for that type of event or activity.” Pole dancing, or pole sports, “is a performance sport combining dance and acrobatics on a vertical pole,” according to the GAISF definition.
JBU athletic director Robyn Daugherty said, “I just wonder if they diversify so much into all these things, does it water everything down?” Match Poker was another sport given Observer status by the GAISF.
“The Olympics are supposed to be this celebration of athletic achievement, at least in my view that’s what they’ve been, and I don’t know that poker fits within that,” Schochler said. “At what point is it athletic and at what point is it a skill set?” Schochler said he also thinks there is not enough diversity in poker to allow it status as an Olympic sport. “I don’t know that poker is actually played in too many places other than, you know, major cities around the world where there are a lot of casinos,” Schochler said.
Foosball is the third addition to receive major criticism from the athletic community.
“Honestly, I think if these three are up for debate right now, it’s simply looking for new ways to get people interested in the Olympics,” Schochler said. He said that the Olympics might be searching for new ways to draw revenue, as there have been a declining interest in the Olympics over the last four to five Olympic games.
“The cost of the Olympics continue to rise so they’re trying to find events that. . .a new generation of viewers will pay attention to,” Schochler said. “They’ve priced themselves out. The only places they can host the Olympics now are cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, nobody else can afford it. And even those cities, they’re kind of debating whether it’s worth it. Rio is still gonna be paying for those Olympics for the next 40 years. Montreal is actually still paying for the 1976 Olympics.”
Schochler said he doesn’t think the IOC will ever follow through and accept pole dancing, poker, or foosball.
“At some point you’ve got to draw a line on what’s an Olympic sport and what’s not,” agreed Daugherty.