Breakdancing, Skateboarding, and …Pickleball? What's Next for the Olympics
July 29, 2021

Breakdancing, Skateboarding, and …Pickleball? What's Next for the Olympics

By Sophie Vanden Bosch

With the addition of four new sports in Tokyo the question on everyone’s lips is unsurprising, “is pickleball next”?


The answer is: almost certainly not.


Let me be clear, I want to see pickleball in the Olympics. I’m an American pickleball player after all, and I’m certain Ben Johns would totallyyy sweep for Team USA. But when I take my personal affinities out of the equation, I’m left with a much different question: “Can pickleball really compete with the new wave of Olympic sports?” 


Let’s take a quick look at Tokyo 2021 and what’s in store for Paris 2024. The 2021 games added four new sports - surfing, skateboarding, karate, and sport climbing. Paris has already approved breakdancing as a substitute for karate. 


Yes, breakdancing will be in the Olympics before pickleball and tbh, I’m not the least bit surprised. 


The IOC is looking to set a new standard for inclusive, gender-balanced and youth-centred games. They’re looking for emerging sports, but pickleball just doesn’t (yet) provide what they’re looking for in 2024.  Here’s why:

 

  • Pickleball doesn’t appeal to a primarily youthful audience. 

Of the 3.46 million players in the US, 1.3 million play 8 or more times a year. And most of these more dedicated players are over the age of 55. Compared to skateboarding and breakdancing, we’ve got a long way to go. 

The good news: the fastest growing demographic in pickleball is people under the age of 55!! (Source: USA Pickleball)

 

 

  • Pickleball has a relatively tiny social media presence. 

When you look at skateboarding, top competitors have anywhere from 500,000 to 4.75 million followers on Instagram alone. In pickleball, top men’s player Ben Johns is still shy of 7,000 followers on IG while female pickleball GOAT Simone Jardim only has 4,600. This doesn’t look great for attracting young spectators. Plus, one of the biggest perks the IOC can use to negotiate massive Olympic Sponsorship deals is the eyes of young people. With barely 10,000 followers between the top two pickleball players, the value proposition of the sport gets harder to fight for. 


The good news: as tournament prize pools get bigger, there’s speculation that tennis players will transfer over to the sport! 


Ok now onto the technicalities. To make it as an Olympic event and even be eligible for recommendation for the Games, a sport must meet a few technical standards. 

  • It’s gotta be governed by an International Federation (IF).

The good news: We have a great IF for pickleball with 58 countries.

  • It must also be “practised widely across the world” (Source: Olympics.com). 
This one is tougher. Widely practised translates to specific criteria. Men in at least 75 countries on 4 continents and women in at least 40 countries across 3 continents have to play the sport for it to be considered. As of Jul 27, 2021  just 58 countries make up the International Federation of Pickleball. 
The good news: Pickleball has reached the continent threshold! After a sport meets all of these criteria, it can be officially recognized by the IOC. 
  • Then, the IOC’s executive board can recommend that a sport be added to the Games.  OR Host countries can submit sports for approval.
The good news: It’s no secret that pickleball is exploding in the US.
There are even rumors about having pickleball as a demonstration sport in LA 2028.

 


Overall, my take is that pickleball could meet the technical standards in the next 8 years, especially for US hosted games. I’m not surprised that Franklin and USA Pickleball announced a partnership that includes “a shared vision of making pickleball a Demonstration Sport at the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in LA.”  We’d need to focus on using our resources to grow the game internationally, but the International Federation of Pickleball is actually doing a great job at this. 


We’re on the right track, but #Pickleballers is far from trending at an Olympic level. We’ve got to involve more young people in the sport (do I sound like a broken record yet?) and really build up the brands of athletes. So what are you waiting for? share this article!!