Disc golf is becoming an increasingly popular sport and has seen steady growth for the last several decades. Not only is it a fun past-time recreational activity, but it has also become a large competitive sport with sizable sponsorship and tournaments. I personally love watching professional disc golf players go head to head in these tournaments. And being an active participant in disc golf and seeing its growth, it feels like disc golf would even be a sport in the Olympics. I’ve seen and heard a number of conversations on disc golf courses and online forums about whether disc golf is in the Olympics, so I decided to check it out for myself.
So, is disc golf in the Olympics? No, disc golf is not currently in the Olympics, however in 2015 during the 128th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), full recognition was given to the World Flying Disc Federation.
Let’s take a closer look at what that REALLY means, and WHY disc golf is excluded from the Olympics and how it COULD possibly be included in the future.
Why is Disc Golf Excluded from the Olympics?
I’m assuming you googled whether disc golf is in the Olympics because you’re a fan of the sport like me and you want to see it gain the global recognition we both feel it deserves. Not to mention, it would be awesome to see disc golf coverage on during the summer Olympics rather than Badminton and Equestrian Jumping.
The reality of the situation is there are enthusiasts from numerous sports around the world (we’re talking over 7 billion people) that are all competing for a spot in the Olympics. And the IOC has limited the number of participating sports to only 28.
It is difficult to put an exact number on how many people participate in disc golf, but I feel save saying it is less than cricket. That’s right, cricket (essentially baseball with a paddle) is pegged as the most popular world-wide sport behind soccer (or futbol, depending on where you are from). I can’t say I’ve ever met someone that watches cricket outside of my Jamaican roommate from college. Its one of the most popular sports in the world, but also excluded from the Olympics.
Other Sports Are Excluded Too, For Good Reason
Cricket, like disc golf, is largely centralized in a few major geographical locations around the world. Sure, you could probably find a few people in most countries that play cricket or disc golf, but the IOC is looking for enough global saturation to where there are enough countries that can present top-notch competitors.
I was watching the disc golf MPO European Open the other day and the lead card primarily had Americans on it. And that held true for all the rounds. This seems to indicate to me that disc golf is largely centralized in the United States with a few fringe countries where it is still a budding sport. I don’t think it would be very entertaining for a global audience to see a bunch of Americans battling it out every four years in disc golf. Of course, selfishly I would love to see this happen, which is why my application to join the International Olympic Committee would be denied.
What do the Numbers Say?
To be more specific, in order for a sport to be considered for the Olympics it needs to be extensively played by men in a minimum of 75 countries spread across 4 continents, and by women in a minimum of 40 countries spread across 3 continents. Not to mention, they are also looking for that sport to be appealing to a wider global audience.
According to the 2018 PDGA demographics the following countries were ranked for total courses:
- United States – 6,316
- Finland – 479
- Canada – 247
- Sweden – 174
- Germany – 99
- Czech Republic – 91
- United Kingdom – 80
- Norway – 75
- Japan – 74
- Denmark – 62
- Australia – 55
- Estonia – 52
Also on the 2018 PDGA demographics, it was noted that total courses have risen from 4,060 in 2013 to 8,108 in 2018. That is the same growth seen from 1975 to 2013. That’s huge exponential growth over the last five years.
But while we may be seeing a tremendous percentage growth of disc golf over a very short period of time, there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough GLOBAL saturation for the sport to meet the cut as set by the Olympic Charter.
Could Disc Golf be Added to the Olympics in the Future?
Disc golf could very well be added to the Olympics in the future. Nothing is impossible. Including the major requirements discussed above, there are a number of other ancillary requirements that the sport would need to develop before consideration.
As previously pointed out, the International Olympic Committee recognized the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) during their 128th session in 2015. But how does the WFDF relate to disc golf?
The WFDF is the organization that governs a number of the games around the world that involve a flying disc. This includes:
- Disc Golf
- Beach Ultimate
- Double Disc Court
The WFDF has governance over disc golf because the PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) has agreed to this arrangement. The idea here being that the WFDF can assist the PDGA in bringing disc golf to a wider audience around the global. And now that the WFDF is a recognized international federation, they will be involved in the decisions the IOC makes in regards to the Olympics, such as location, participating countries, and included sports. Most important being which sports are chosen to be part of the games.
Keep in mind there numerous other international federations that have been recognized that are all vying for the opportunity to voice their opinions as well. Of those international federations competing, there is: billiard sports, bridge, cricket, dance sport, floor ball, bowling, chess, tug of war, and sumo. Also, there are a number of federations that are seeking recognition such as American football, cheerleading, kickboxing and lacrosse.
What are the Odds?
I decided to take some to watch the portion of the 128th IOC session where the WFDF was given recognition. If you are curious, you can find the video here. The video was heavily focused on Ultimate, rather than any of the other games in the WFDF, including disc golf. This would lend to the argument that Ultimate would be a part of the Olympics well before disc golf since Ultimate has penetrated the global stage much more over the last several decades.
It is not entirely surprising that Ultimate would attain Olympic status before disc golf, since it is more appealing to a wider audience. Not to mention, it would be much easier for a global audience to pick up on how Ultimate works as it is similar to soccer. Disc golf isn’t as fast paced or easy to understand, so the average Olympic viewer would be more likely to turn the channel to sometime else.
However, I believe it is possible for the sport of Flying Discs, generally speaking, to be added all at once. This would be similar to track & field or gymnastics (more properly known in the Olympics as Athletics and Gymnastics Artistic). Within track & field and gymnastics there are numerous events that all take place under the banner of one sport. So perhaps the World Flying Disc Federation, after many years of lobbying efforts to the International Olympic Committee, could get the sport of Flying Discs included in the Olympics.
If this is true, we should hope that all the member sports of the WFDF continue to see growth in the future as I believe this is the best chance for disc golf to be included in the Olympics. I feel confident saying Flying Disc sports will not see the Olympic stage for another 20 years. I hope to be proven wrong. However, there is really no telling when or even if this will ever happen, but the above graph displaying the growth of disc golf is promising.
When was Disc Golf Created? Disc golf history reaches back to the early 1900s, but it is generally accepted that modern disc golf as an organized sport originated with Ed Headrick in 1976 when the Disc Golf Association (DGA) and the Professional Disc Golf Assoication (PDGA) were founded.
Is Disc Golf a Real Sport? After the International Olympic Committee gave full recognition in 2015 to the World Flying Disc Federation, the governing body of disc golf, it is widely accepted that disc golf is considered a real sport.