Updated: Feb 23, 2019
The world was all a-buzz last week when the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) announced that pole had obtaining observer status from the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF). This sounds exciting, but what does it actually mean for pole? Murmurs of pole going to the Olympics have been happening for several years, though the sport has inched closer to making this a reality, pole premiering at Olympics will likely not happen overnight.
There are two paths to the Olympics, the first occurs when the organizational federation of the sport (for pole this is the IPSF) petitions and applies to get the sport considered. The second is from a grassroots committee, generally in the country hosting the Olympics, the goal is to get locally popular sports included in the host country. This local process was adopted in 2014 to help introduce new sports.
To clarify, pole is on “observer” status with the GAISF not the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This means that pole is one step closer, in that, if fully accepted to the GAISF the boost can be what pole needs to be recognized by the IOC and eventually accepted into the Olympic games. If pole succeeds to full recognition with GAISF, then the application process for recognition with the IOC begins which can take several more years. A big point is that the IPSF as the governing body of the sport must regulate the sport, thus creating scoring, rules, regulations, equipment standards, judging standards, coaching standards, 30 national championships and one world championship.
It’s also important to know that when a sport is selected to be in the Olympic games it’s not guaranteed a permanent spot. A sport can be accepted but not included in the Olympics, and sports can be pulled from the Olympics when viewership decreases and, to put it harshly, no longer makes money. Some examples of sports that are no longer in the Olympics but are recognized as sports are water skiing, power boating and cricket. The long-standing grievance between sport federations and the IOC has been that the application process and that getting the IOC’s attention is a costly endeavor. This is where past scandals and corruption have reared up.
When the IOC selects a sport to debut at the Olympics, the idea is to flash the sport at the viewing public and see if there is a bite, call it an exhibition of sorts. If a sport has high interest and viewership then the sport may earn a place in the next games. Now, this sounds great for pole, since our sport tends to be interesting, glitzy, artistic, and impressive to watch, compared to curling for example. But we are not guaranteed shoe-ins because we are glittery unicorns, there is some political maneuvering that happens and our sport may have to battle giants at this stage.
First of all, the IOC members vote on which sports make it to the games. In this behind-the-scenes arena, many sports are fighting to be in the Olympics and not just new sports, but old sports that have declined in the public favor. These sports are seeking committee members votes. There was serious contention this past Olympics, when the IOC dropped wrestling to the wait list, but eventually reinstated it. The national organizing committees of each sport in each country has to be willing to fight. Is pole organized enough to fight? Do we have fat stacks of cash? Is the stigma surrounding pole still too strong to get votes?
The selection process isn’t necessarily fair, the IOC isn’t looking for the most difficult sports, but the sports that capture the audience’s viewership in that moment in time. And currently they are interested in capturing the millennial audience. Sad but true, this is about money, the IOC is looking for sports that spark interest and have viable commercial interest not just for the public but with television networks. Business is business, and the IOC has to ask if there is appeal to the television audience, who is apparently mostly female and now streaming the Olympics. The viewership of the Olympics has been on the decline and the IOC and the networks are searching for the next snowboarding. Could pole be the next snowboarding?
Pole’s acceptance in the GAISF is an enormous first step, it tells the world pole is a real sport and its participants are ready to share it. The next few years may show the growth and maturity of pole into a world class sport and no doubt it will be a wild ride.