From the humble go-kart to the infamous tracks and races of Formula 1 and NASCAR, motorsport is a passion that millions of people around the world share, and it’s generally agreed upon that those behind the wheels of these vehicles are incredibly skilled and capable sportspeople. Why, then, are motorsports not a part of the Olympic Games?
The I.O.C. refers to Rule 52.4.2 of the Olympic Charter prohibiting mechanical propulsion to explain why motorsports are not in the Olympics. However, the F.I.A has been recognized as an international sporting body by the I.O.C. Although there are still no plans to include motorsports in an Olympic games.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games featured 339 different events executed by 11,000 athletes from 205 national Olympic Committee teams. Impressive as those numbers are, not one of them was related to motorsports. The closest we got was BMX, which obviously don’t have a motor!
Have motorsports ever been a part of the olympics? Many events have come and gone over the years. In today’s blog we’ll be exploring the contentious relationship between motorsports and the Olympics.
Motorsports in Olympic History: Motorsports at Paris 1900
The Paris 1900 Olympic Games was a lot smaller than Tokyo 2020 with just 28 country teams and just under 1,000 athletes (only 22 of which were women).
It was also among the more infamous games considering the number of events that were put into the games before the emerging International Olympic Committee had properly established rules on which sports would be permitted to grant “Olympic championship” status to the winner.
The controversial Paris games was held not as a stand-alone event as we understand modern Olympics to be, but rather as an “add-on” to the ongoing 1900 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle). They also didn’t take place in a two-week window, but rather a marathon 6-month window from May 14 to October 28, 1900, which was about par for the course in early Olympic days.
The lack of standards allowed many “non-olympic” events to take place, including motor racing.
The slightly unusual thing about the 1900 Olympic motor racing events is that they were focused entirely on the manufacturer rather than the driver as you might expect to happen today. In Formula 1, for instance, we observe both the individual drivers and the teams they race for, creating two champions each season. Paris 1900, however, was entirely for the manufacturers.
Participating OEMs included Renault, Peugeot, Delahaye, Serpollet, and others. Nearly all the drivers were French, but some other nationalities were also present, including a notable American, Gilbert Brown, who won gold for the USA — or at least for the American manufacturer — in the fire truck category.
Yes, there was a race category specifically for fire trucks, which brings us onto the next point – racing categories. They were as follows:
- Electric Taxis
- Gasoline Taxis
- Electric Vans
- Gasoline Vans
- Small Trucks of 1,000+ kg (2,200+ lbs)
- 2-seater Vehicles — under 400 kg; over 400 kg
- 6-seater Vehicles — over 400 kg
- 7-seater Vehicles
- Fire Trucks
- …and more passenger vehicles, large and small
Races were carried out and winners declared, but these events retrospectively were never officially recognized as Olympic events, and thus have never been recorded as such.
The winners of the motorsports events at Paris 1900 were only recorded as winners of interesting sporting events held as part of the World’s Fair 1900, and not part of the official Games of the II Olympiad.
Sporting Events at the Paris Olympics 1900.
Other events in this category include fishing, hydrogen ballooning, boules, cannon shooting, kite flying, pigeon racing, motorcycle racing, and a very interesting event known simply as “life saving” that included attending to wounds first-aid style, land and water rescue, and effectively operating a fire pump.
There Were Motorsports in the First Olympics.
Well, kind of. The olympics were set up to show warriors prowess at skills that would be needed in battle. So along with shot put, Javlin, marathon, wrestling there was also chariot racing. Surely, surely! Chariot racing surely could be classed as an early motor sport.
Yes it’s man and animal competing, like dressage, well not quite, but you get the idea. So all they would have to do is extend the “power” limit from 1 horsepower, to 700 horsepower or so!
Why Are Motorsports Not in the Olympics?
While some of these old-school Olympic events do seem to be rather whacky and outlandish, motorsports are an established and respected sporting field. They have official organizations, millions of fans, and are recognized as sports in which a tremendous amount of skill and training are required to reach what can be described as a professional level. What is the IOC’s problem?
It has been said that the crux of the matter lies in the fact that while the driver is skilled, it is the vehicle that is doing all the work, and propulsion of the vehicle is not dependent on any physical skill of the driver.
Well, that’s debatable of course, but it also raises the question of sailing events. Aren’t boats and the wind responsible for that movement? It actually goes a bit deeper than that.
It seems that the root of the IOC’s objection to admitting motorsports into the Olympics connects to Rule 52.4.2 of the Olympic Charter, which states:
Herein lies the difference between motorsports and the above-mentioned example of sailing. A boat may rely on wind power to move, but there’s still a great deal of skilled and physically demanding work on the part of the participant to get the boat along its course.
The same can’t be said for engine-powered vehicles where control of direction is typically the action of moving a steering wheel. Although, of course try racing a Rally Cross, NASCAR, or F1 Race and then suggest that is not physically demanding!!! NASCAR even races on oval tracks already!
The year 2012 offered some hope for motorsports fans when the IOC recognized the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing international body for motor racing events, as an International Sporting Federation.
That gives the FIA a seat at the table where Olympic matters are concerned, but whether or not that will ever materialize into new Olympic motorsports events is impossible to know.
The FIA’s adoption of Olympic Charter measures that bring it in line with anti-doping standards used by the Olympics is another positive step in bringing motorsports closer to the purview of Olympic organizers, but to date there is zero concrete evidence to point to any Olympic official voicing serious support for motorsports in the Olympics.
When asked about permitting Formula 1 into the Olympic program, former IOC President, Jacques Rogge, said that the Olympics is a “competition for athletes, not for equipment.” That seems to sum up the IOC’s attitude quite well, as things stand.
For the time-being at least, it seems that there is little hope for motorsports, but the Olympics are constantly evolving. There are many voices calling for reform and changes to the way the IOC operates and how Olympics are run.
A quick look at the candidates for the 2036 Olympic Bid, for instance, shows a record number of countries putting multiple city bids forward to host jointly — e.g., Toronto-Montreal 2036, Chengdu-Chongqing 2036, London-Birmingham-Manchester-Liverpool 2036 — a huge departure from tradition. Who knows what other changes could come?
who would have guess surfing and BMX would ever appear in a Modern Olympic Games, maybe we will see a form of motorsports in the olympics in our lifetime?