Muay Thai and the Path to Olympic Recognition


Will we be getting a kick out of Muay Thai at a future Olympic Games? Will cheers be coming from the stage as well as the stands in an Olympics cheerleading competition some day?

Both are possible, now that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has officially bestowed “provisional status” on The International Cheer Union and the International Federation of Muay Thai as international sports federations. This recognition means access to a USD25,000 grant every year for the next three years, as well as the right to apply for inclusion in the Olympics any time within that three years.

What is an Olympic sport? It appears that, at its simplest, it’s a three step process:

  • Form an international federation that is recognized by an organization called SportsAccord;
  • Apply for and gain provisional status from the IOC;
  • Apply for and gain approval from the IOC for inclusion at a future Games.

According to this article, Muay Thai applied for recognition to SportAccord in 2006. SportAccord is an uber organization for all sports federations or sports-related associations, whether they are involved in the Olympics or not. SportAccord assists sports federations in promoting their sports, as well as providing the sports organizations with advice and guidance on anti-doping and social responsibility. Once SportAccord recognizes a sport for five years, it can proceed to the next step of applying for provisional status to the IOC.


It’s unclear why the Muay Thai application to the IOC, which was submitted some time in 2015, took so long to get provisional status. My guess is that the given sports federation has to respond to a long list of questions regarding rules and regulations, safety measures, prevalence of doping, for example. According to this article, Muay Thai may have been given great insight when wrestling was suddenly dropped as an Olympic event because of the vagueness of their rules, and the length of the matches. This is how the Bangkok Post saw the situation in 2013:

Another obstacle is that the IOC has made it clear that all new sports seeking Olympic admission must make the necessary changes to make their sport “more viewer-friendly”. By reducing the rounds, wrestling has become more attractive, and Muay Thai needs to address the first and last rounds for its five-round bout that are often extremely slow and irrelevant. The two-minute rest periods between each round are too long and boring for many fans but appreciated by the gamblers.

To improve its chances of becoming an Olympic sport, Muay Thai has to revise the scoring system to reward the fighters who show effective attack as well as eliminating prolonged grappling. Muay Thai bosses must have an understanding that all sports must evolve and that includes allowing more women to enter its upper echelons of administration and encouraging more women to compete in Muay Thai.

I lived in Thailand for 11 years. I’d love to see a Thai sport in the Olympics!