There are many reasons why snowshoeing has not been added as a Winter Olympic sport. Though, there are also a lot of reasons why to include it. Competitive snowshoeing has been in existence for about 200 years, according to Mark Elmore, former Director of the United States Snowshoe Association and World Snowshoe Federation.
Criteria for Olympic Sports
One of the main criteria for consideration as an Olympic sport is history and longevity, according to the International Olympic Committee, or IOC for short. Other requirements for being considered an Olympic event include that a sport is widely practiced. Snowshoeing clearly fills these requirements, and then some.
The continued growing popularity of the sport also bodes well for snowshoeing as an Olympic sport. The Snowsports Industries of America, a non-profit trade association of the winter outdoor industry, conducted 18,000 interviews to assess participation. As a result, SIA projected 3.4 million snowshoers in the 2019/2020 winter season. This number compares to 4.8 million cross-country skiers and 25.1 million across all winter sports. Furthermore, ten countries on five continents have snowshoe organizations registered as the World Snowshoe Federation members.
Another vital statistic is the age group of snowshoers which includes 20% under 17. Also, 25-34-year-olds are the largest percentage of participants at approximately 30%. Ages 18-24 and 35-44 each consist of about 13% of participation. Finally, 8.5% are 45-54, with the remaining 15% being over age 55. Regarding gender, about 66% of participants are male and 44% female.
Let’s look at the IOC’s inclusion of special events over the years like slopestyle and big air. These might make you scratch your head wondering how Olympic officials rationalized their decisions. So here are a few facts: Before a new sport can be added to the lineup, an existing sport must be dropped.
However, the number of events has continued to grow at each Olympics. The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing had over 100 events, the largest in history. Many new events were not even invented until roughly a decade ago. Though all have been phenomenally successful events in the Winter X Games, the annual extreme sporting event each January televised by ESPN. These are somewhat entertaining but have absolutely no history or longevity as the IOC claims they must to be considered.
So, how did the IOC circumvent its own rules? They include new events under the umbrella of currently successful disciplines like alpine and cross-country skiing. Both of these sports have long histories and meet all the IOC parameters. But the reality is that there is no way any of these imported X Games sporting events come close to achieving the widely practiced requirements.
Demographics and Advertising
Another critical factor is the demographics and advertising potential. The IOC has desperately been courting the new younger generations. The X Games are the perfect example of reaching those audiences. Thus, to meet their marketing and financial plans, the IOC hi-jacked a handful of sports from the X Games and deemed them official Olympic events.
To understand how important the money factor is to the IOC, look at softball and golf in the Summer Games. Softball had basically very little advertising potential. Given that glaring fact, the IOC removed it as an official sport after the 2008 Games. After that, though, the IOC added it as a one-off appearance in the postponed 2020 games. On the other hand, golf has been missing in action as an Olympic sport since 1904. Given its over-the-top worldwide appeal and lucrative advertising reach, adding golf to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro was a no-brainer. Ever since Peter Ueberroth showed the IOC how to profit during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, the IOC has been on that same quest.
To Be Or Not To Be
When you take all the IOC rules, regulations, incentives, and motivations, it’s challenging to move the needle when adding a sport like snowshoeing to the Olympic lineup. Though it has the history, longevity, youthful appeal, and growing numbers, the advertising base – or lack thereof – is the one determining factor that has kept this sport from racing to the finish line in the Winter Olympics. What’s really ironic is that snowshoe racing has been a Special Olympics event since 1997 but has yet to gain the nod from the IOC.
Longtime supporters of adding snowshoe racing to the Winter Olympics feel like they are pushing a snowball up a hill. But as many people claim, this race is far from over.
Do you think snowshoeing should be an Olympic sport? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
This article was first published on March 18, 2014, and was most recently updated on March 8, 2022, with new statistics.