Is Kickboxing an Olympic Sport?

Is Kickboxing an Olympic Sport?

Kickboxing is an elite striking martial art popular all around the world. It started its development into the combat sport we know today back in the early 1960s. It made incredible progress to become more of a sport and less of a fight but is still widely regarded as an aggressive martial art. That being said, is Kickboxing an Olympic sport?

WAKO Kickboxing has been granted provisional recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meaning it has taken the first steps towards becoming an Olympic sport. But, it is still not in the Olympic Games, and there’s a long way to go before that happens.

Many hurdles have yet to be overcome. The provisional recognition lasts for three years. In that period, the IOC needs to decide whether to grant full recognition to WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations) and eventually include the sport into the Olympics or reject their application for several reasons.

Is Kickboxing in the Olympics?

Kickboxing isn’t a part of the Olympic Games and will hardly become a part soon. There are many reasons why the IOC will most likely reject the application made by WAKO eventually.

But, there are also many ways Kickboxing could end up being an Olympic sport – but quite possibly not in the form of the full-contact combat sport we mainly consider to be Kickboxing. Let’s walk through both the reasons against and the legitimate ways for Kickboxing in the Olympics.

Even though WAKO Kickboxing has been granted provisional recognition, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, and it’s heading to the Olympic games. It will take a lot of time for them to get everything to match the IOC criteria, and even then, they could still get rejected for other reasons.

The IOC has a list of 35 criteria that come into play when deciding if they’ll include a sport in the Olympics or not. Not all the requirements have the same weight, though, so there are only a few crucial to enter the Olympics. The problem is, most of the criteria are entirely subjective, and ultimately, only the Committee can decide whether they’ll accept an application or not.

The first criterion to consider is popularity. The sport in question must be popular worldwide, and there has to be a large number of practitioners in a large number of countries. WAKO Kickboxing surely fits that criteria, with millions of fighters competing in 129 countries in the world.

The second criterion is the gender-equality. Of course, some sports are predominantly male, other sports mostly female, but there have to be practitioners from both genders for the sport even to be considered. Equality is one of the Olympic values, and a sport must represent those values. Again, WAKO Kickboxing satisfies this criterion as well.

The next requirement is the institutionalization of the sport. Meaning, are there any global organizations that unify and govern the sport to have unified rules in the entire world? The internal organization of those governing bodies is also essential, as well as their financial status. As we stated, WAKO Kickboxing is very well organized and manages seven different Kickboxing types, so this criterion is covered.

Things are looking good so far for Kickboxing in the Olympics, right? Wrong. We come to the final, crucial criterion – the sport’s image. Kickboxing is still widely regarded as a violent, aggressive sport. That’s where we come to a pickle.

The IOC will never accept Kickboxing as an Olympic sport, as long as most public opinion characterizes it as a violent sport. Violence and aggression are the exact opposite of Olympic values, so they can’t accept a sport that the public sees as violent.

There has been a lot of progress in both the sport’s perception and the rule changes to make it more acceptable, but there is a long way to go if we want to see full-contact, modern Kickboxing in the Olympic games.

Even if the public opinion changes dramatically, it still might not be enough for the IOC, for other, more technical reasons. As of now, there are five combat sports/martial arts in the Olympic games. Two grappling sports (Wrestling, Judo), and three striking sports (Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo).

The Olympic Committee does not want too many similar sports in the Olympic games. So, to add another striking combat sport into the mix might be too much for them. They see Karate, Taekwondo, and Kickboxing as too similar because they all utilize both punching and kicking, even though they are entirely different in nature and execution.

That being said, there is a very slim chance that modern Kickboxing will end up in the Olympics, but there are some other ways in which Kickboxing could become an Olympic sport.

How can Kickboxing get into the Olympics?

If we are going to be realistic, the chances of having full-contact Kickboxing in the Olympic games are close to none. However, as we already said, WAKO governs seven types of Kickboxing, some semi-contact or even point fighting. So, the best bet WAKO Kickboxing can have is to get one of the less “violent” types accepted by the IOC.

Point Fighting Kickboxing probably has the highest chance of entering the Olympics. It is a light-contact version of Kickboxing where you have to control your strikes because excessive contact is penalized by disqualification.

The goal is to score more points than your opponent, and you have to wear full protective gear, including a helmet, gloves, shin guards, and groin protectors. It is very similar to Karate point fighting, which is already a part of the Olympics. Even though it satisfies the criteria to enter the games, there are already two point-fighting combat sports in the mix, so Kickboxing in this version might be redundant.

One of the major things that change the game drastically for Kickboxing is the low kicks. They are not allowed in neither Karate nor Taekwondo, so there is a possibility of Kickboxing with “No low kicks” rules entering the Olympic games as well. But, that still doesn’t solve the perception of violence, especially with head-kick knockouts, etc.

Ultimately, WAKO can only do so much to please the IOC and get into the Olympics. In the end, they are the ones who’ll come to a subjective decision based on the reasons they want to adhere to.

Most important Kickboxing organizations

The fact that Kickboxing still isn’t fully recognized as an Olympic sport doesn’t mean it is not very well regulated and organized on a global level. We already mentioned the WAKO several times. It is the leading organization for amateur Kickboxing, which is where all the fighters begin their journey. 

Winning a WAKO title is very prestigious, but the real popularity of Kickboxing lies in professional promotions. The best fighters of the world compete in these organizations as paid professionals. We’ll name a few of the most popular and elite promotions where you can watch the best Kickboxers in the world compete.

GLORY Kickboxing

GLORY Kickboxing surfaced in 2012 when K-1 was going through a difficult time financially, and quickly became the most prolific and elite professional Kickboxing promotion worldwide. It promotes the same rules and values as K-1 and has the best Kickboxers in the world competing for the titles.

There are six different categories, ranging from Featherweight to Heavyweight. Each class has its champion, with the most popular of all being Rico Verhoeven, the heavyweight champion that defended his title a staggering nine times. Some of the world’s greatest Kickboxing legends competed in a GLORY Kickboxing ring, such as Peter Aerts, Semmy Schilt, Remy Bonjasky, and others.

K-1 Kickboxing

When you think of Kickboxing, you think of K-1. It was the first big Kickboxing promotion ever, established in 1993. It had whopping success, with many world-famous fighters on its roster, such as Branko Cikatić, Mirko Cro Cop Filipović, Jean Claude Van Damme, and many other spectacular fighters.

Unfortunately, financial problems cause the organization to go under, rising again in 2012 and organizing events to this day. It might not have the same popularity as it once had, but it is still one of the world’s top Kickboxing organizations.

ONE Championship

Finally, one more top-rated Kickboxing organization is the biggest Asian professional martial arts promotion globally, ONE Championship. It is a very young organization but has gained a lot of popularity and has some of the best fighters in the world competing there, so it would be wrong not to mention it.

Another thing that separates ONE Championship from the other mentioned promotions is that it includes Kickboxing, MMA, and Muay Thai, each in their respective rulesets. It’s fascinating to see so closely how different yet similar Kickboxing and Muay Thai is. 

There is still a long way to go to the same level as GLORY or K-1 Kickboxing, but the organization is gaining more popularity with every event they organize. That’s meaning more money, and more cash attracts better fighters. 

Better fighters mean better fights, and that ultimately leads to more popularity and more money. If the trend continues, we could quickly watch ONE as the new leader in the Kickboxing world.