Paintball In the Olympics? This is What Has To Happen


One of the most often talked about topics in the various paintball forums online and a topic I’m often asked about is paintball being played in the Olympics. For me personally this is a topic I’ve been researching for years and it’s a topic I know well. So let’s dive right into it. Can paintball ever become an Olympic sport?

Who chooses the sports played in the Olympics & why?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) chooses the sports that are introduced into the Olympics. According to the IOC’s bylaws (Olympic Charter), to have any shot to be included in the Summer Olympic Games a sport must be “widely practiced by men in at least seventy-five countries and on four continents, and by women in at least forty countries and on three continents.” Sports widely practiced in at least twenty-five countries and on three continents may be included in the program of the Olympic Winter Games. In addition all sports must have an international governing body that runs events, develops the rules, and looks after the sport’s international interest. In addition, all sports that are to be considered by the IOC must be played at a variety of competitive levels.

One or two demonstration/exhibition sports can be added to an Olympic Games per event. These sports are chosen by the host country (The National Olympic Committee of the host country actually chooses the demonstration sport.). If enough interest is generated, a demonstration sport may be added as an official medal sport in the future. This has happened before. For example, baseball and tennis were demonstration sports in Los Angeles in 1984 and became medal sports in the 1988 Games.

How close is paintball to meeting the above criteria?

We’re getting there. Paintball is now being played competitively in more than 40 countries and certainly on four continents—so that’s a good start. The problem with paintball is that there currently is not a “World (WF) or International Federation (IF)” governing the sport. International Federations (IFs) are nongovernmental organizations responsible for the international administration of one or more sports. The IFs are responsible for developing their sports worldwide, enforcing the rules of their sports, establishing eligibility criteria, hosting international competitions, conducting their sports at the Olympic Games, and contributing to the “Olympic ideal” in general.

There have been several attempts at creating an international governing body for paintball but none have worked to date. This is a must before any serious consideration will be given to including paintball in the Olympics, even in a demonstration mode. The sport of paintball currently has no international organization capable of handling the necessary functions to be considered an Olympic Sports Federation (IF or WF). The NPPL (National Professional Paintball League) rules have been accepted by many leagues (The Millennium Series rules are very similar to those of the NPPL) and events world-wide and this is a start. X-Ball’s rules have also been accepted by many leagues and events world-wide, but they are vastly different from the NPPL/Millennium rules. This would create a problem for the IOC. How can the IOC take paintball seriously when the game is played in two completely different formats, even within the same country as it is in the U.S.?

Levels of play, disciplines & events

Also important to the “Olympic Movement” is the inclusion of multiple levels of play and a variety of disciplines and events for its sports. Most sports that are played in the Olympic Games have several events. For example, there were eight men’s swimming events at this year’s Summer Games. While having multiple events for each sport is not a steadfast rule, it’s probably what the IOC would prefer. Multiple levels of competitive play worldwide is also important to the IOC. The NPPL, PSP and other organizations do meet the eligibility criteria in terms of levels of play (Division One, Two, Three, etc.) and designing several disciplines/events specifically geared towards the Olympic Movement seems very possible. There could easily be a team paintball event and individual one-on-one games created with the specific goal of gearing up for a presentation to the IOC.

A true international league or series is a must.

A true international paintball league or series would have to be established before getting consideration from the International Olympic Committee. This league or series should have a standard set of rules, criteria for levels of play, a board that oversees the entire league (and reports to the governing body), a serious reffing team, and a well-planned and a well-attended international series of events. While some of us may consider the NPPL and Millennium Series events to be international tournaments, the IOC probably would need to see more competition from teams outside of the U.S., England, France, Russia and other current paintball powerhouses. In keeping with the true spirit of the Olympic Games the IOC will probably not be impressed with a sport that is dominated by a select few countries. Proof of this is the IOC recently announced that it is removing softball from the Olympic Games because until the 2008 Summer Games, the U.S. has been dominating softball for years.

But wait, there’s more…

In a note from the Library of the AAFLA (Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles) we were told in an e-mail, “I believe the IOC is concerned that adding sports makes the Games unmanageable and unpractical for the athletes who compete.” The bottom line is that even if the general criteria are met, the addition of a particular sport is not guaranteed. Some things that may be seen as prohibitive would be items like logistics, difficulty to adequately broadcast or show the game’s action, safety concerns for the athletes or spectators, etc. So if a particular sport would need to take up a disproportionate amount of physical space compared to other sports, it may not ever be added to the Olympic Games for that reason alone. If a sport like paintball is seen as too difficult or too expensive to capture for the television audience that could also prevent the sport from being added. Suffice to say the general criteria is just a starting point. In the end, even those sports that meet the IOC criteria must be voted in by the IOC.

Can we do it?

There are many recognized Olympic sports that are probably a lot smaller than paintball in terms of how many players compete internationally. This gives us great hope. Sports like badminton, luge and fencing are Olympic sports with far less international participation than paintball. The growth of paintball world-wide is a source of hope as well. But the fact that organizations come and go in paintball is one of the biggest problems advocates of paintball in the Olympics face. Our industry can make paintball in the Olympics a reality if it can come together and work at it. It won’t happen on its own and the current organizations in our sport are not equipped to handle this.

We need an organizing body that can take the resources that are already available and form a true international paintball series. Adding several overseas events to a current tournament series can work, especially if some of the added events are played in Asia as they are now with the World Cup Asia event. Including countries like China, Japan, and others in that region of the world will be necessary. Tying-in smaller events in other countries is a must. In other words tournaments that are already happening in Mexico, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, etc. can use the newly established league name. This would give the appearance (and rightly so) that paintball truly is an international sport, not just a recreational hobby.

Once these things are in place, presentations to the National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee may be all that is needed to get the ball rolling. The question is, who is going to step up to the plate?