10 Honest Reasons for Bowling in the Olympics


Throughout the decades, bowling has remained ever-popular – both as a recreational activity and as a professional sport. It is estimated that more than 100 million people bowl annually. For this reason, the fact that bowling is not included in the Olympics perplexes many people. After all, there’s certainly a case to be made for why bowling should be included in the Olympic Games. 

Bowling is an internationally played sport, which makes it a prime candidate for inclusion in the Olympics. The International Olympics Committee has recognized the International Bowling Federation since 1979 despite the lack of inclusion. Like the Olympics with roots in ancient Greek tradition, bowling finds its roots in an ancient Egyptian tradition. 

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of how Olympic sports are chosen today and the secret history of bowling at the Olympics. Once we’ve done this, we’ll break down the top ten reasons bowling should be included at the Olympics and nine reasons it’s not included. Let’s get started! 

How Olympic Sports Are Chosen

The Olympic Games, as we know them today, finds their roots in Ancient Greece. Also referred to as the ancient Olympic Games, many representatives from different city-states were chosen to compete in a series of various athletic competitions. The first Olympic Games dates back to 776BC. 

At the ancient Olympics, sports such as running, discus, combat, long jump, and even equestrian events were included. Now, somewhat three thousand years later, the Olympic Games have been revived for a modern world. Today, many of these sports still form part of the Olympic games – even equestrian events! 

However, there are also many new, more modern sports that are now part of the Olympic games. Over the years, the Olympic sports and the regulations governing them have changed and progressed. Recently, a new system was introduced to regulate the sports that form part of this event. 

Typically, there are 28 sports in total that are included in the Olympic Games, from archery to wrestling and everything in between. Of these aforementioned 28 sports, 25 of them are considered core sports, while the remaining three are considered ‘floating’ sports. 

In recent years, however, the Olympics committee has revised this model even further to allow for more flexibility. Over time, new sports will be included in the Olympic Games, while others may be dropped. Wrestling was famously dropped before being reinstated. 

Due to this, many people have wondered whether or not bowling would finally be included at the Olympics in one of these floating sports. However, with the chances of a core sport ever being dropped from the Olympics program, what are the chances that bowling would be able to take one of those three floating spots in the future?

Well, in 2015, bowling got a lot closer to being included in the Olympics. From a long list of 28 sports, bowling was on the shortlist of eight sports to be considered for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which were delayed till 2021. Unfortunately, bowling – along with squash – eventually did get included in the 2020 games. 

There are many possible reasons for bowling not getting included in the Olympics – but we’ll get to those later. However, the very fact that bowling made the shortlist of sports to be considered for inclusion is a testament to international sports federations pining for its inclusion. 

Many federations, bowlers, and fans alike have been campaigning to have bowling included at the Olympics for years now. With the Olympics Committee wanting to appeal to a younger generation, it remains to be seen whether or not bowling will be included in the Olympics in the future. 

There’s certainly a case for it! However, did you know that there’s more to the history of bowling and the Olympic games? Keep reading as we explore the secret history of bowling as an Olympic sport. 

The Secret History of Bowling at the Olympics 

As we discussed above, many people have campaigned for years to get bowling the respect it deserves from the International Olympic Committee. However, did you know that bowling was once included in the Olympic Games very briefly? 

In 1988, the Summer Olympics were held in Seoul, South Korea. Bowling formed part of the Olympics’ demonstration program that year. On the 18th of September 1988, the Olympics bowling event was held at Seoul’s Royal Bowling Center. 

There was both a male and female bowling tournament held at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Not only that, but a whopping 20 nations competed in these tournaments. Today, there are over 100 million people who bowl annually. These statistics go to show that bowling has largely remained popular. 

In 1996, bowling was again a demonstration sport at the Summer Olympics held in Atlanta. However, since then, bowling has never again been included as a sport in the Olympics. Now, somewhat 25 years later, people are wondering why! 

There are many legitimate reasons that bowling should be included in the Olympics as a sport. However, there are just as many reasons as to why bowling has not been included since. If you’re interested in these reasons for the lack of bowling in the Olympics, then keep reading as we break down everything you want to know. 

Should Bowling Be an Olympic Sport? 

As we looked at in this article, bowling has been excluded from the Olympics for more than two decades. However, there are many great points to be raised for why bowling should be included in the Olympics as an official sport. Here are the top ten honest reasons bowling should be included in the Olympics. 

#1: Bowling is Played Internationally 

Bowling is played across the world by people of all ages. Given that bowling meets the International Olympic Committee’s criteria for the number of continents a sport should be played in, it only makes sense that bowling should be allowed to compete in Olympic competitions.

In fact, it is estimated that bowling is played by 100 million people across the globe in more than 90 countries. Given the wide reach of bowling internationally, it makes sense that this sport is included in future Olympic games. After all, there are players of all ages and skill levels! 

#2: Bowling is Competitive 

Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, bowling is a competitive sport by nature. At the core of bowling are certain rules that regulate the game. The game also has a scoring system that includes strikes and spares. Given that these rules and the scoring system have been put in place, it makes all the more sense for bowling to be included in the Olympics. 

Many people are under the misconception that bowling is ‘just for fun’ due to the popularity of bowling as a fun pass time. However, when you see the bowling games played in various events and tournaments, you’ll see that this is a competitive sport. The bowling that is done by professionals is very different from that done by amateurs at your local bowling lanes. 

#3: Bowling is Doping-Free 

A common issue when it comes to the Olympics is the doping of competitors. Of course, doping refers to the use of illegal or banned substances by competitors in various sports. While the Olympics have banned any drugs that enhance athletic performance, countless Olympics doping scandals have surfaced over the years. 

However, when it comes down to bowling, doping is highly unlikely due to the nature of the sport. While a certain level of athleticism is certainly required for bowlers, performance-enhancing drugs will not improve the performance of a bowler. This makes it a fantastic drug and stress-free sport to include in the Olympics.

#4: Bowling is Highly Inclusive 

Unfortunately, many Olympic sports require able-bodied individuals to partake. Due to this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recognized both the Special Olympics for those with intellectual disabilities and the Paralympics for those with physical, visual, or intellectual disabilities. 

When it comes to bowling, however, both able-bodied and disabled athletes are able to compete. If the Olympic Committee were to include bowling as an official sport, they would be able to make even more strides towards equality in the Olympics. 

#5: Bowling is Steeped in Tradition 

As we discussed earlier in this article, the Olympic Games are steeped in tradition, dating back to ancient Greece. Similarly, bowling is a sport that has many traditions embedded within it. For this reason, it’s the perfect sport to be included in a competition like the Olympics where tradition is so highly regarded. 

Evidence that was uncovered by Italian archaeologists has revealed that ancient Egyptians played a game remarkably similar to bowling that would inspire the game as we know it today. In this ancient game, two players would bowl with stone balls in a 4-meter-long limestone lane. Even back then, this was a competitive sport! 

#6: Bowling is Similar to Other Olympic Sports 

Many fans of the Olympic Games are frustrated by the fact that bowling has been continually excluded from the Olympics, especially when you compare it to other sports that form part of this competition. When you compare certain included sports to bowling, the fact that bowling should be included in the Olympics becomes clear. 

Bowling can be considered a sport with an indirect competition. While players do not impact the outcome of each other’s games, they still play on the same course. Furthermore, curling is included at the Winter Olympics and shares many similarities with bowling, as both are played on hard surfaces where a ball or stone slides towards a set target. 

#7: There are Many Successful Bowling Competitions 

There are many successful bowling competitions and tournaments across the world, both at local and professional levels. In fact, the world of international bowling is a diverse one! The World Bowling Tour, for example, is a professional tour that unites bowlers from across the world through a series of events. 

Furthermore, to qualify for the World Bowling Tournament, it’s required for bowlers to be members of one of the World Tenpin Bowling Association’s federations. Given the existence of global bowling competitions and tournaments, it only makes sense for bowling to be included in the Olympics. 

#8: Bowling Isn’t as Simple as People Think 

Many people are under the impression that bowling is a simple sport. This notion is especially popular due to the fact that people of all ages and skillsets can go bowling for leisure. In fact, part of bowling’s overall appeal is that both amateurs and professionals can take part alongside one another. 

However, being a professional bowler requires both athleticism and skill. From your stance to the way you release the bowling ball, bowling is not as simple as you may think. Players require a certain level of endurance, body strength, and hand-eye coordination to bowl skillfully. All the more reason for bowling to be included in the Olympic Games! 

#9: There is a World Bowling Governing Body 

One of the Olympic requirements for competing sports is that the sport needs to be managed by a worldwide governing body. The International Bowling Federation also referred to as the IBF, is a recognized governing body that oversees both nine and ten-pin bowling across the world. 

Moreover, the International Olympic Committee has recognized the International Bowling Federation since 1979. The IBF even has different member federations located in all five of the Olympic regions across the world. Given that bowling is regulated by the IBF, which itself is recognized by the IOC, bowling should be an Olympic sport. 

#10: Bowling Could Be in the Winter Olympics 

It’s a known fact that the Summer Olympics is jampacked with various sporting events. Despite certain rule changes made by the International Olympic Committee, it’s a very tight lineup of sports that are able to compete in the Olympics. This makes it increasingly harder to include bowling in the Olympics – at least a part of the Summer Olympics. 

A possible solution to this, which would allow bowling to be included in the Olympics, would be to include bowling as part of the Winter Olympics. Earlier, we looked at bowling’s similarity to Curling, an Olympic event that takes place in the winter. Allowing bowling to compete in the Winter Olympics could finally allow for this sport to be a part of the Olympics. 

Why is Bowling Not in the Olympics? 

Earlier in this article, we looked at ten reasons that bowling should be included in the Olympic competition. While there are many valid reasons for the inclusion of this sport in the Olympic Games, there are just as many reasons that bowling will not be included in the future. Keep reading as we break down the top nine reasons that bowling is not included in the Olympics! 

#1: Bowling Doesn’t Get Enough Media Traction

One of the major reasons that bowling is not included in the Olympic Games is due to the lack of media attention bowling receives. At the end of the day, the Olympics is a televised event that needs to draw in viewers in order for the Olympics to be successful.

For this reason, the International Olympic Committee is wary about adding a sport like bowling to their lineup, especially when it’s not a widely popular sport to watch. Furthermore, there’s an initiative from the IOC to cater to sports that appeal to a younger audience, which is not reflected in bowling. 

#2: Bowling Requires Bowling Lanes 

Another reason for the continual lack of inclusion of bowling at the Olympics is the cost associated with creating the relevant facilities to cater to the sport. Given that the Olympics are hosted in different countries, the cost to establish the needed bowling facilities would be too high.

This is especially true when you consider other Olympic sports that are cheaper to include. Furthermore, given that there are ‘floating’ sports in the Olympics, as we discussed earlier, it does not make sense financially to build the necessary facilities only for the sport to be excluded at the next Olympic Games. 

#3: Anyone Can Learn to Bowl

Part of the fun in watching the Olympic Games is seeing talented athletes perform amazing feats in various sports and even break world records. When it comes down to bowling, however, there’s no age limit. Both able-bodied and disabled people can be professional bowlers.

Anyone can be a professional bowler, and that just makes it even trickier to include in the Olympic Games. Many Olympic Sports have certain age limits and regulations for those who wish to compete. With bowling, however, this is harder to regulate.

#4: Bowling is Considered Too Social 

There is a large debate surrounding whether bowling qualifies as a sport or a game. In many of these debates, the social nature of volleyball is discussed. Regardless of how you see bowling, that fact remains true: bowling is very social in nature. There’s a reason 100 million people bowl annually, and it’s not because they’re all professional bowlers! 

Bowling can be a great way to spend time with friends or family. That’s because., while you’re waiting for your turn, you have time to catch up with your teammates. However, as an Olympic sport, this social nature doesn’t help bowling’s argument of inclusion. 

#5: Bowling Isn’t Considered Fun to Watch 

This point links closely to our earlier point about the lack of media attention that bowling receives. This point links to many of the other points mentioned in this list. If you’ve ever gone bowling recreationally, have you ever found yourself riveted by someone else’s game to the point that you’d watch it play out in its entirety? 

For many of the 100 million people who bowl annually, much of the fun bowling lies in the act of bowling. Furthermore, as we discussed above, there’s a social element to bowling that makes it that much more enjoyable to do. Watching it, unfortunately, is a different story. 

#6: It’s Hard to Measure Success in Bowling 

As we discussed earlier, bowling features a unique scoring system. When you knock all of the pins down in one turn, it’s a strike; do it with two turns, and it’s a spare. However, this isn’t a very nuanced scoring system. When it comes down to the Olympics, you’d imagine that professional players would be getting strike after strike. 

Besides this, however, it’s difficult to measure success besides this limited scoring system. With Olympic sports like athletics, jumping, and figure skating, participants can be rated on speed, style, or execution. The lack of this scoring element in bowling ultimately leads to a rather low-stakes sport that won’t entertain audiences on television. 

#7: The Majority of Bowlers are Right-Handed 

When you consider international bowling statistics, it becomes clear that an overwhelming majority of bowlers are right-handed. While this may seem inconsequential, this actually has an important impact on the game – and why bowling won’t be included in the Olympic Games. 

Given the sheer number of right-handed players, the right-hand side of bowling lanes often receives a lot more play than the left-hand side.  Furthermore, heavy concentrations of oil are used on bowling lanes to enhance the game. 

However, when the majority of players are right-handed, it results in an uneven breakdown of the oil on these lanes. In turn, this can impact the quality of the game and can be costly to maintain. For this reason, the IOC remains hesitant to include bowling in the Olympics. 

#8: Bowling is More Accessible in Developed Countries 

In the United Kingdom and the United States, bowling is a hugely popular game. As we mentioned earlier, more than 100 million people partake in this sport. Of that estimated 100 million people that bowl every year, roughly 67 million of them are situated in the United States. 

Therefore, although the game is widely played, the distribution of these players across the world is highly uneven. Many developing countries do not have access to bowling lanes or play alternate versions of the game, such as lawn bowling. Even if developing countries have bowling facilities, it is not always a sport that is financially accessible to the residents of these countries. 

By definition, the Olympics is designed to bring competitors from different countries together in sporting events. For this to work, the sport needs to be widely played to make it a fair competition. Due to this, the International Olympic Committee is hesitant to add bowling to their list of Olympic sports. 

#9: There Are Few Well-Known Bowlers 

When you think of well-known sports figures, the chances that you’ll think of a professional bowler are realistically quite slim. Names like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Tonya Harding might come to mind – but could you name a professional bowler? Ultimately, this links to the lack of media coverage professional bowling receives. 

As mentioned earlier, the International Olympic Committee has also been aiming to include sports that appeal to a younger generation. When all of these factors are combined, along with the costs associated with this sport, it leads to a sport that doesn’t have the draw it needs to be included in the Olympic Games. 

Conclusion

In this article, we looked at how the International Olympic Committee picks the sports that are included and why bowling has not been included for more than two decades. Despite this, there is a solid argument that can be made for why bowling should be included in the Olympics. 

Sources: 

https://www.history.com/topics/sports/olympic-games

https://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2007/07/27/1989990.htm

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/bowling-sport-olympics

https://focusband.com/many-people-play-10-pin-bowling-world/

Tim C, M.D.

My grandfather and my mother both taught me bowling in the early 1970’s. I spent the next few decades working my way up to the top tiers of local amateur bowling leagues, and continued to participate in college at the club level. My wife and bowled in coed leagues before kids, and then taught our kids bowling as they grew up. Now I’m here to answer some of the web’s common questions about bowling rules, techniques, equipment and more. To see more about the site, check our About Page

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