While Greco-Roman wrestling, dressage and walking are among the more unusual Olympic sports we know and love, Games over the years have included plenty of even more out-of-the-ordinary events.

It’s an arduous process for a new sport to be admitted to the Games. To be selected, a sport must be recommended by a member of the National Olympic Committee, which then presents it to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The new sport is then placed on a waiting list until the IOC Executive Board makes a recommendation as to whether it should be included. Then, all IOC members vote on including it in the next Olympic Games. 

In casting their vote, IOC members consider a sport’s popularity around the world. 

“Sports that are played on the global stage by a large number of countries are favored, and also sports that are attractive to a younger audience are also popular,” explains Mike Tancred, director of media and communications for the Australian Olympic Committee. “It is a great advantage if your nominated sport is played by men and women because gender equality is a big issue for the IOC.”

What’s New for Rio... and Beyond

At the IOC session in Copenhagen in 2009, both golf and rugby 7s were accepted and will be played at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio. 

“Golf was last played in the Olympics in 1904 and Rugby in 1924,” Tancred said. “They applied in 2005 and were rejected after softball and baseball were dropped from the program at the IOC session in Singapore."

Tancred believes Australia is a serious contender for gold in both new sports. “Jason Day will head Australia’s challenge in golf, and is currently top of the world rankings,” he added. “Both our male and female rugby teams are serious medal chances. New Zealand will be our main rival in rugby, along with Fiji and South Africa.”

Five new sports have been proposed to the IOC for the next Olympic Games – rock climbing, surfing, skateboarding, baseball, karate – all of which would be pretty exciting additions. 

In August, the IOC will vote on whether we get to watch surfers, skateboarders and martial arts masters in Tokyo in 2020. 

In the meantime, here are some of the unusual sports from the annals of Olympics history: 


Athletes could compete in tug-of-war at the Olympics between 1900 and 1920.

Tug-of-War (1900-1920)

If any one discontinued sport needs to be reintroduced, it is, unambiguously, tug-of-war. 

While the modern Olympics held the event between 1900 and 1920, it was part of the line-up in the Ancient Olympics back in 500BC. 

In the first Olympics of the modern era, Athens in 1896, teams didn’t compete nationally, but rather in teams of eight from athletics clubs and police units. 

Tug-of-war has an important history, with the first black athlete to compete in the Olympics, Haitian-born Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, participating in the event in 1900. 

Hot-air Ballooning

Hot-air ballooning was introduced in 1900 at the Paris Olympics where there were 18 events judged on duration, distance and elevation.

Hot-Air Ballooning (1900)

Admittedly, hot-air ballooning was only a demonstration sport, but what a demonstration! Introduced at the Paris 1900 Olympic Games, 18 events were judged on duration, distance and elevation. Sadly, in the long run, the event turned out to be just hot air.

Art (1912-1948)

Once upon a time, the Olympics included creatives, too. Between 1912 and 1948, artistic athletes competed in architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. 

Called the “Pentathlon of the Muses”, categories included designs for town planning, reliefs, watercolours and dramatic works. In 1928, for instance, Dutchman Carel Theodorus Scharten won bronze for his poem, “The Fool in the Maremmen”. 

Unfortunately, the Arts Olympics were dropped because most competitors were also professionals and the International Olympic Committee then insisted that competitors be amateurs. 

Perhaps if Australia wins the multi-city bid in 2028, bush-balladry can be our demonstration sport. 

Solo Synchronished Swimming (1984-1992)

Despite the sport’s confusing title, solo synchronised swimming is actually a thing. Introduced at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, the sport involves one female athlete swimming in time to music. 

Tracie Ruiz won gold in 1984, and the sport appeared on the Olympic roster until just 1992, when the passion for dancing alone in a pool somehow petered out.

Trampolining (2000-Now)

Trampoline stars will be among the contingent of athletes attending Rio this year. The sport was introduced at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and athletes have been bouncing to unheard-of heights ever since. 

Competitors jump on a five-metre long trampoline and perform highly technical twists and somersaults, not unlike traditional gymnasts. Both men and women compete and they’re scored on difficulty, execution and the time they hover in the air.