A sport or discipline is included in the Olympic programme if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) determines that it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries that compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport's importance.
The IOC's requirements reflect participation in the Olympic Games as well - more stringent toward men (as they are represented in higher numbers) and summer sports (as more nations compete in the Summer Olympics). Sports may not depend primarily on mechanical propulsion, though there were power-boating events in the early days of the Olympics.
For purposes of Olympic competition, the IOC makes a distinction between sports and disciplines. A sport, in Olympic terms, is a single or group of disciplines as represented by an international governing body, international governing body, namely an international federation.
IFor example, aquatics, represented at the Olympic level by the International Swimming Federation, is a sport at the Olympics that includes swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and water polo.
Medals are awarded on a per-event basis; there can be one or more events per sport or discipline.In fact, with the removal of baseball and softball from the Olympics after the 2008 Games, every current Olympic discipline has at least two events.
At the first Olympics in Athens in 1896, nine sports were contested. Since then, the number of sports contested at the Games has gradually risen to 28 on the programme from 2000–2008. At London 2012, however, the number of sports will fall back to 26 following.
For most of the 20th century, demonstration sports
have been included in many Olympic Games, usually to promote a non-Olympic sport popular in the host country, or to gauge interest and support for the sport. Some such sports, like badminton, were subsequently added to the official Olympic programme. This changed when the IOC decided in 1989 to eliminate demonstration sports from Olympics Games after 1992.
Although no demonstration sports have been included since then, as an alternative, the Beijing Organising Committee received permission to organize a wushu tournament for the 2008 Olympics
Previous Olympic Games included sports which are no longer present on the current programme, like polo and tug of war. These sports, known as "discontinued sports", were later removed either because of lack of interest or absence of an appropriate governing body.Archery and tennis are examples of sports that were competed at the early Games and were later dropped by the IOC, but managed to return to the Olympic programme (in 1972 and 1988, respectively).
Softball and baseball are two of seven sports, including golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports, that will be considered at the 2009 Olympic Congress in Copenhagen for two openings on the schedule for the 2016 Olympics.
Many sports are not included in the Olympic programme but are recognised by the IOC, including bridge. At any time, a recognised sport may be added to the Olympic programme in future Games through a recommendation by the IOC Olympic Programme Commission followed by a voting of the IOC membership.
An International Federation (IF) is responsible for ensuring that the sport's activities follow the Olympic Charter; from the moment their sport is recognised they become official Olympic federations and can assemble with the IOC and remaining Olympic IFs.
In order for a sport or discipline to be in included in the Summer Olympics programme (but not necessarily be contested at the Olympics), it must be widely practiced by men and women, in at least 75 and 50 countries, respectively, spread over four continents.