How Did Synchronized Swimming Become an Olympic Sport?

Or for that matter this year’s addition to the Olympic canon, its cousin, synchronized diving?

There are three ways an activity can come into the Olympics: as a completely new sport; as a discipline, a branch of an existing sport; or as an event, a competition within a discipline. Triathlon is making its Olympic debut as a sport in Sydney; trampoline, which is part of gymnastics, is a new discipline; and women’s pole vaulting the latest track and field event.

The first step to becoming a recognized sport of the Summer Games requires being organized into an international federation and having male participants in at least 75 countries on four continents and female participants in at least 40 countries on three continents. Once the International Olympic Committee votes to recognize a federation, the next step becomes a matter of lobbying. This is supposed to be done without the help of that now-banned Olympic activity, bribery. The IOC now recognizes 31 federations in everything from bridge to korfball (it is beyond Explainer’s capacity to explain korfball).

Since the IOC wants to keep the number of athletes to the current 10,000 (!), it also helps if a sport has telegenic participants, which may be why triathlon made it from recognized international federation to medal sport in a swift 11 years, and bowling, recognized since 1979, languishes. (Their new Olympic marketing campaign slogan: “Strike Gold.”)

Since it is easier to make it into the Olympics under the umbrella of an existing sport, some federations allow themselves to become a discipline. Snowboarding gave up its quest for solo recognition and is now part of the International Ski Federation. It lost some independence but gained the economic reward of Olympic status. It is a reward no one wants to lose. There are reports that among the sports the IOC has recently considered for elimination are baseball, modern penthatlon, and synchronized swimming. Yet the Sydney Games show they have a Rasputin-like capacity to rise from the dead.

Synchronized korfball, anyone?

Explainer wishes to thank Michael Salmon of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

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