Is kickboxing an Olympic sport?

Kickboxing is a Western fighting sport consisting of punches and kicks.  It can be practised on a recreational or competitive basis.


Kickboxing is not currently an Olympic sport, unlike a number of other martial arts.  It has, however, received International Sports Federation (IF) status, which is the first step towards becoming an official Olympic event.


What martial arts are currently in the Olympics?

There are currently a number of martial arts in the Olympics:


Judo – “the way of suppleness”

Judo was developed from its Jiu Jitsu roots by Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938) to evolve it into a sport from its samurai fighting origins.


It primarily focuses on techniques designed to throw opponents to the floor and pinning them into submission.


The sport made its Olympic debut in 1964 in Tokyo.  Women’s judo was added in 1992.



Taekwondo – “the way of kicking and punching”

Taekwondo was developed in Korea during the first century BC and primarily features dynamic kicking techniques.


It was first featured in the Olympics during the 2000 Sydney Games.


Freestyle Wrestling –  “catch as catch can”

Wrestling is one of the World’s oldest sports, and has even been recorded in cave drawings of early man.


In freestyle wrestling, players can use their arms, legs and upper bodies to attack and submit their opponents.


It has been part of the modern Olympics since the  1904 Games. Women’s wrestling was introduced in 2004.   



Boxing is an ancient sport with evidence that it was practiced by the ancient Egyptians in c.3000BC.  


It resurfaced as a modern sport in 17th century England and made its Olympic debut in 1904.  Women’s boxing was added in the 2012 London Games.


Karate will make its first appearance in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and will feature both kumite (sparring) and kata (forms) events.



How do sports become part of the Olympics?

There are a number of steps a sport has to go through before it becomes featured as part of the Olympic Games.


The first step is perhaps obvious, but it has to be recognised as a sport.  It must also have a governing body that operates on an international basis. Once the sport has overcome this hurdle, the governing body receives International Sports Federation (IF) status.


Once it has obtained this status, the governing body has to promote and comply with the Olympic Anti-Doping Code.


The next stage requires the governing body has to complete a petition outlining why the sport should become part of the Olympic program.


In considering the petition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to bear in mind a myriad of rules and regulations.  For instance, the sport must be widely practice by men in +75 countries and by women in +40 countries. There are also more subjective requirements, such as the sport has to retain and reflect the modern traditions of the Olympic Games and also increase its “value and appeal”. 


The rules also exclude ‘mind sports’, which explains why chess isn’t featured, and also sports which rely on any form of mechanised propulsion, such as motor sports.


The regulations allow the committee members enough wiggle room to allow them to find some reason to turn down a sport should it decide to do so.


In addition, just because a sport gets into the Olympic programme doesn’t mean it will stay there.


The IOC regularly reviews the sports to see which ones should be kept.  Sometimes, difficulties obtaining suitable venues for particular sports will mean that sports are dropped from future games.  This is what happened to baseball and softball after the 2008 Beijing Games.


Similarly sports such as tug-of-war, cricket, polo, and water skiing were once Olympic Sports but have since fallen away.

Has kickboxing applied to be in the Olympics?


One of the largest kickboxing governing bodies is the World Association of Kickboxing Organisations (WAKO).  


The association started in Berlin, Germany in 1977 and worked quickly to organise World Championships featuring competitors from all over the World.


It also established rules and regulations governing the sport including the use of safety equipment as well as permitted punching and kicking techniques.


WAKO now represent competitors in over 129 countries.


On 30 November 2018, the IOC granted provisional recognition to WAKO in accordance to Rule 25 of the Olympic Charter.

Is kickboxing an Olympic sport?

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Rule 25 states:


“In order to develop and promote the Olympic Movement, the IOC may recognise as IFs international non-governmental organisations governing one or several sports at the world level, which extends by reference to those organisations recognised by the IFs as governing such sports at the national level. The statutes, practice and activities of the IFs within the Olympic Movement must be in conformity with the Olympic Charter, including the adoption and implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code as well as the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of Manipulation of Competitions. Subject to the foregoing, each IF maintains its independence and autonomy in the governance of its sport.”


This means that WAKO has completed the first stage of becoming an Olympic sport:  it has now received International Sports Federation (IF) status.


However, as I’ve previously outlined this is only the first stage of the process.  It still has to overcome a number of hurdles.


There are still plenty of opportunities for the IOC to reject their application for one of a dozen subjective reasons.


Will kickboxing ever become an Olympic sport?

Personally, I don’t think it will.


As I’ve pointed out there are already a  number of martial arts that feature in the Olympic Games.


One of the key requirements for a sport to feature in the Olympics is it’s popularity.  


Unfortunately, kickboxing is viewed as being a violent sport by the mainstream population.


Taekwondo is it’s closest equivalent, since it involves both punching and kicking techniques.  However, in this sport, the combatants are heavily padded and the violence is masked or hidden. 



Notice how the referee continually stops the fight and resets the fighters after each point.  It’s a very stop-star affair.  


Now compare this to a WAKO Kickboxing event below:




Whilst the referee does intervene, it is much more free flowing, with combinations of kicks and blows being thrown by each of the fighters.


For fight lovers, this what makes the sport so exciting to watch.  However, for the average member of the public, it appears as a brutal and savage sport; more so than boxing since kicks and knees are involved.


It’s this perception, that I believe, will hinder kickboxing’s progression in becoming an Olympic event.


Do you agree?  Let me know in the comments below.

Related Articles:

The Origins of Kickboxing: A Comprehensive History

My views on the best kickboxing equipment for home training