Philip Barker

Three sports which have been part of the Olympic Movement for more than a century may well find themselves excluded from Los Angeles 2028.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given weightlifting, boxing and modern pentathlon until 2023 to find a "pathway" for inclusion.

Climbing, skateboarding and surfing have been all but assured of their places in 2028. They are the latest manifestation of IOC President Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020.

"The proposed inclusion of these youth-focused sports is based on their significant contribution to the overall success of Tokyo," Bach said after the Executive Board meeting last week.

The three newcomers had all at some stage been included in the X Games. Established to target the 13-24 demographic, the X Games were first held in 1995, almost exactly a century after the first Olympics of the modern era in 1896.

As preparations were made in Athens, a bulletin published in 1894 outlined the anticipated programme. This included athletics and gymnastic sports, combat sports - which meant fencing and wrestling - the water sports swimming, water polo, rowing and sailing, cycling on track and road, shooting, equestrian sport and athletic games, specifically tennis and cricket.

In fact, cricket or equestrianism did not happen. Bad weather also prevented rowing and sailing.

 Pierre de Coubertin, the French nobleman who played a vital role in reviving the Games and supervised its growth as IOC President, envisaged "the average number of athletes participating will range from 800 to 1200."

By 1912, the figure was already more than double his estimate.

By then, the Olympics had already featured, and discarded, croquet, jeu de paume, racquets and lacrosse.

Surfing is poised to make a third Olympic appearance at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images
Surfing is poised to make a third Olympic appearance at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images

Tennis featured indoor and outdoor events before the First World War but was removed from the programme after 1924, not to return until 1988.

Motorboating was included once, in 1908. Regulations later forbade "Sports, disciplines or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion."

Tug of war was an Olympic sport, but last appeared in 1920.

By this time, discussion on the inclusion of more women's sports had made the agenda.

Tennis players, archers, golfers and swimmers had been permitted before the First World War.

The French pioneer Alice Milliat established the International Women’s Sports Federation. Eventually, in 1926, agreement was reached for women’s athletics at the Amsterdam 1928 Games.

The IOC members were exclusively male. Some had entrenched views.

In 1929, Ivar Nyholm reported from Denmark that "a resolution was passed urging a complete suppression of women’s events from the Games."

The first requests to include women’s hockey came in the 1930s, but the sport was not introduced until 1980. Despite an acceptance of women’s gymnastics, apparatus finals only appeared in 1952.

Women did not row at the Olympics until 1976; female cyclists had to wait until 1984.

Elsewhere roller sports and bowling were rejected. Model yacht racing was also proposed but turned down.

After the Second World War, London 1948 organisers received an approach from folk dancing.

There have always been concerns over the sheer size of the Olympics but whenever the IOC tries to make reductions, controversy follows.

In February 2013, wrestling’s future was threatened by an IOC Executive Board proposal.

Tug of war is among the sports to have featured at Olympic Games of years past ©Getty Images
Tug of war is among the sports to have featured at Olympic Games of years past ©Getty Images

"We are willing to undertake all the necessary steps," Nenad Lalovic vowed as he became the new President of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, now United World Wrestling.

"We must strive to improve our sport’s offering in order to retain our position on the Olympic programme and evolve with the times."

The Olympic Games of antiquity had included wrestling so a competition was held in Ancient Olympia reinforcing its heritage.

The United States launched a "Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling" and in Russia, wrestler Opan Sat wore kit emblazoned with the message "Save Olympic Wrestling".

At a World Cup event in Tehran, a banner proclaimed "Olympics Without Wrestling? Never!" in Farsi and English.

There was a "Rumble on the Rails" at Grand Central Station in New York, world rankings were introduced and tournament regulations modified.

These efforts paid dividends. At the 2013 IOC Session in Buenos Aires it was confirmed that for the immediate future at least, wrestling was safe.

Weightlifting and boxing were last week dubbed "problem children" by IOC President Bach.

At the 1896 Olympics, weightlifting consisted of "one handed" and "two handed" lifts. At a time when strength and health culture enjoyed great popularity, "one handed" champion Launceston Elliott even received a marriage proposal from "a highly placed lady" in Athens.

A similar competition format was employed in 1904, but in 1920 came the introduction of weight divisions. At one stage, it was press, snatch, clean and jerk and then just snatch and clean and jerk.

Doping scandals in recent years prompted some to call for weightlifting's expulsion and only last week the Executive Board "expressed its disappointment about ongoing governance instability, further delaying the transition towards an effective change of culture."

Wrestling is one sport which faced Olympic exclusion in recent years but has repaired its standing ©Getty Images
Wrestling is one sport which faced Olympic exclusion in recent years but has repaired its standing ©Getty Images

Boxing has been a continuous part of the Olympics for the last century but concerns over officiating standards percolate its history.

After the 1952 Games, International Amateur Boxing Association President Emile Gremaux admitted "certain difficulties arose".

Complaints about Judging continued infamously at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where American light-middleweight Roy Jones Jr was the highest-profile victim. Some officials were suspended but there were accusations of bribery to influence results.

Problems continued to the extent that the IOC took over administration of the Olympic tournament in Tokyo. The report presented to the Executive Board last week highlighted "various unresolved concerns remaining in the areas of governance, finance and referees and judges."

The case of modern pentathlon is slightly different.

The combination of shooting, swimming, horse riding, fencing and a footrace was devised by Coubertin himself and introduced in 1912 as "a veritable consecration of the complete athlete."

The sport’s promotional material often highlights the Coubertin connection. He saw horse riding as vital.

"There is only one true and fair way to hold the equestrian event," Coubertin insisted. "That is to provide all the competitors with horses they have not had the opportunity to ride until that time."

It was this ruling which led to the flashpoint in Tokyo.

Weightlifting's place on the Olympic programme is in serious jeopardy ©Getty Images
Weightlifting's place on the Olympic programme is in serious jeopardy ©Getty Images

Germany’s Annika Schleu was leading after swimming and fencing when she drew Saint Boy for the riding. The same horse had previously failed to complete a round for another competitor. Saint Boy refused to jump again, effectively ending Schleu’s medal chances.

Footage later emerged of German coach Kim Raisner striking the horse. The International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) issued a black card and suspension.

For a sport which enjoys its biggest spotlight at the Olympics, it was a public relations calamity.

"Riding is an integral part of the modern pentathlon, as envisaged by Baron Pierre de Coubertin," said a UIPM statement following the event.

"The ability to control a horse in a competitive situation is part of the pentathlon toolkit. The unpredictability of athletes riding on unfamiliar drawn horses is part of the dramatic spectacle that makes modern pentathlon unique and compelling."

Plans to shorten the competition were already in the pipeline but last month the UIPM instead announced plans to drop riding altogether. This came as a shock to many pentathletes who appealed personally to Bach against a decision they characterised as "clearly damaging and destructive".

Their action group, Pentathlon United, was supported by Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Joe Choong and his 2016 predecessor Alexander Lesun and supported by some 700 other past and present competitors.

Even before Bach’s Agenda 2020 promised "Regular reviews of the programme to be based on events rather than sports", the IOC had introduced an "Evaluation Criteria for sports and events."

The Olympic Charter used simply to stipulate "only sports widely practised in at least three continents", 40 countries for men and 25 for women, would be considered. This was replaced by a 33-point questionnaire examining topics such as "history and tradition" and "universality". International Federations (IFs) were asked for details on world rankings or World Championships and figures on junior championships.

Tokyo 2020 witnessed the successful debut of 3x3 basketball ©Getty Images
Tokyo 2020 witnessed the successful debut of 3x3 basketball ©Getty Images

Spectator attendance, television coverage and rights sales and "development of steps undertaken in order to promote the IF and the sport through 'New Media'" were all evaluated.

The IOC also examined athlete representation, gender equity and "Steps taken by your IF to present your sport in the most interesting and attractive manner."

Environmental impact and doping violations were also scrutinised.

In Tokyo, in execs of 11,000 competitors from 206 nations contested the 339 gold medals on offer.

Many of the sports on the programme had joined the stampede to change in order to preserve their Olympic place.

Rugby union was 15-a-side when included either side of the First World War. It never attracted more than three teams. In 2016, an Olympic return came with sevens, making it possible to stage a complete tournament in two or three days. It was an instant success. Basketball’s introduction of 3x3 in 2020 opened up the same possibilities.

Archery's switch to a knockout format and shooting’s sudden-death medal rounds made each more attractive for the viewing audience.

In athletics a revised "Final Three" format for horizontal jumps and throwing events is to be introduced in 2022 Diamond League meetings, which might be the prelude to similar changes at Olympic levels.

The introduction of further mixed team events also seems likely, but the challenge of including popular sports while ensuring the Games do not become even more unwieldy is a problem with which the IOC will continue to wrestle.