Squash and flag football will be in the Olympics for the first time. Cricket and lacrosse are returning after appearances in early Games, while baseball and softball have been in and out of recent Olympics. None of them is guaranteed to remain in the Olympics past 2028, but recent additions such as skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing have found permanent spots on the summer program.
Joining the five new sports are two others that were not included on the IOC’s original plan: weightlifting and modern pentathlon. IOC leaders had been concerned about recent doping problems in weightlifting but indicated late last week that the sport has made moves to clean up those issues. Modern pentathlon was in danger of being dropped after removing horse riding as one of its disciplines, but the IOC seems happy with an obstacle course as the replacement. The IOC also plans to keep boxing even though the sport’s potential new governing body, World Boxing, has not earned IOC recognition.
The five new sports plus weightlifting, modern pentathlon and boxing cause L.A. 28 to blast past the IOC’s limit of 10,500 total athletes for summer Games, a fact IOC leaders conceded late last week when pushing the new program forward for Monday’s vote. Some disciplines inside current summer sports could be removed and the athlete cap tweaked before the Los Angeles schedule is finalized in 2025.
How did squash make the Olympics?
Squash made several failed bids to join the Olympics before this long sought-after win. The World Squash Federation was stung by snubs in London and Paris — two European capitals where the sport has long-standing popularity — and had previously expressed frustration at Tokyo’s organizing committee for a rejection it deemed “difficult to understand.”
People familiar with the process for 2028 said squash’s pitch leaned on its history and international appeal. The fast-paced sport originated in England in the 19th century and is played in more than 150 countries, according to the Professional Squash Association, which oversees squash’s pro tour. Previous world champions have hailed from Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan and Australia.
Though squash lacks mainstream popularity in the United States, American investment in the sport is growing. U.S. Squash opened a $65 million public facility in Philadelphia in 2021 and the collegiate game boasts around 60 varsity programs. The PSA hosts major tournaments in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
Squash’s inclusion could provide Egypt, which dominates the top rank of professional squash, with a strong opportunity to add to the country’s total of eight Olympic gold medals. The U.S. could contend on the women’s side, where four American players currently rank within the top 15.
People familiar with the selection said squash likely will feature fields of 48 or 64 athletes, split evenly between men and women. Squash’s Olympic bid emphasized its affordability and flexibility — pro squash tournaments often are played on outdoor glass courts in makeshift venues erected around local landmarks, like the Great Pyramids of Giza or New York’s Grand Central Station. The Olympic event could take a similar shape if organizers find a suitable backdrop in L.A.
How did flag football make the Olympics?
Back in 2019 Izell Reese, a former NFL player who had been picked by the league to run its youth program, came up with a crazy idea: what if the league could get flag football into the Olympics? The global attention and rush by countries to build their own flag programs could be link the NFL has been seeking in its perpetual search for overseas fans.
In early 2020, Reese proposed his idea to league executives who found it crazy enough to try. By the end of that year, getting flag football into the Olympics had become one of the NFL’s top three priorities. The league publicly pushed its case as only the NFL can, with a massive campaign that included turning the Pro Bowl into a flag football game and running a series of flag football commercials.
The NFL likes to point out that flag is not just an American sport, with 20 million people playing it in 100 countries, including Mexico where the league claims there are 100,000 new players, and Japan, where it is part of some school curriculums. Flag is also a girls’ high school sport in some places in the U.S.
But the biggest reason a two men’s and women’s tournaments of six teams each will be at the Los Angeles Games is because the NFL is behind the event. The NFL is the world’s most-lucrative sports league which should help L.A. 28 organizers sell more sponsorships for an Olympics they insist will pay for itself and maybe even make money.
How did cricket make the Olympics?
Bach said he first raised the idea of cricket to L.A. 28 Chairman Casey Wasserman at a dinner during the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. and found Wasserman “saw, already, the great potential [of cricket] and was highlighting it himself.”
The IOC has been intrigued by cricket because it wants to find a way into India, now the world’s most populous country with a surging economy that ranks among the planet’s top five in gross domestic product. India has little Olympic history with a total of 35 medals, 10 of them gold. But cricket, its most popular sport, offers the IOC a perfect entry.
The rise of the shortened, three-hour version of cricket called Twenty 20 or T20 allowed for the creation, 15 years ago, of the wildly successful India Premier League. Television audiences for IPL matches are so large that last year Forbes valued seven of the league’s franchises at more than $1 billion. The IOC hopes the IPL’s popularity, new wealth in India and the support of powerful American tech executives of Indian heritage who want to grow the game in the U.S. will bring an additional revenue stream to the Olympics. The IOC has not yet sold television rights for the 2028 Games in India and cricket’s inclusion has the potential to boost the value of that deal to by more than $200 million.
Olympic cricket allows the IOC and L.A. 28 to sell corporate sponsorships in India they otherwise would not have been able to attract. It is not an accident the IOC approved the addition of cricket at a session held in India this week.
Cricket, too, is growing in the U.S. with a new league, Major League Cricket. Parts of he T20 men’s World Cup will take place in U.S. with matches in the Ft Lauderdale, Dallas and New York areas.
The Olympics will have both men’s and women’s tournaments of six teams each, though it is unclear if the federation that oversees cricket will automatically give the U.S. a spot in the Games — a courtesy often granted to the host country when a new sport is introduced.
How did baseball/softball make the Olympics?
Advocates for the other sports trying to get on the 2028 Olympic program say they knew all along that L.A. 28 planned to add baseball and softball to the Los Angeles program. There was no way an American Olympics would leave out the American game. After a handful of early Olympic appearances, baseball came back for Los Angeles’s last Olympics in 1984 and had a successful run through the next six summer Games until the IOC voted it out before the 2012 London Olympics.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics introduced softball, which appeared in the next three Games before being dropped at the same time as baseball. It took another baseball and softball country, Japan, to bring the two sports back for the 2020 Tokyo Games, but it was clear baseball and softball would disappear for the 2024 Paris Olympics with the idea they would return in Los Angeles.
The popularity of this year’s World Baseball Classic has helped baseball and softball’s case with the IOC, but Major League Baseball has never made its players available for the Olympics and has not indicated that it will in 2028. Last week, Wasserman told Sportico that L.A. 28 executives have had a “very engaged, ongoing dialogue” with the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association about getting big league players in the 2028 Olympics.
“We do believe that the best players in the world will want to play baseball in the Olympics and have an opportunity to win a gold medal for their country,” he said.
As with Tokyo in 2020, each sport will have a six-team tournaments.
How did lacrosse make the Olympics?
Though lacrosse did not have the same booming marketing campaign as cricket or flag football, the sport seems to have intrigued L.A. 28 executives partly because it is North America’s oldest sport, played for centuries by Native Americans and partly because the people lobbying for lacrosse were well-organized and had Olympic experience. The Olympic version of lacrosse is faster and more compact than college lacrosse with six-players on a side playing 45-minute games on a 75-yard field, allowing lacrosse to use the same stadium as rugby sevens — a cost savings for L.A. 28
Lacrosse was one of the stars of last year’s World Games in Birmingham, Ala. — a global competition for sports not in the Olympics — regularly drawing some of the biggest crowds. On the night L.A. 28 officials went to assess lacrosse, there were lines of people waiting to get into the stands.
Lacrosse has its own wealthy benefactor in Alibaba founder and chairman Joe Tsai, who owns the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty. Tsai, who played lacrosse at Yale, has been active supporter of the sport and owns two professional teams in the U.S. People familiar with the process of picking the 2028 Olympic sports describe Tsai as active in pushing the game to L.A. 28 leaders.
Though the IOC is currently considering men’s and women’s tournaments with six teams each, Olympic executives will have to decide if they can include the Haudenosaunee National Team, which represents the six nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Upstate New York and lower Canada. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is not recognized by the IOC as an Olympic organizing committee, though it competes as a nation in lacrosse and its men’s sixes team is ranked fifth by World Lacrosse. The women’s sixes team is seventh.