Muay Thai as an Olympic Sport…

In 2016 Muay Thai (along with cheerleading) has received provisional recognition as an Olympic sport. That sounds really exciting and I still think that it is, but it should be noted that this status is a very tentative one with fainter implications than one might think. When I first heard about this I had the idea in mind that this meant that we would see Muay Thai in the Olympics soon, but that isn’t necessarily so.

What that provisional status means is that the governing body will receive at least $25,000 USD annually from the Olympic committee and will also have the opportunity to apply for additional grants. During the three years that Muay Thai has provisional status it has the right to apply to become an Olympic sport, after which Olympic committee executives would vote to fully recognize the sport, and then it could petition to be included in the games. In the 2020 Olympics we will see new sports like baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. The viewership of the Olympics has gone down drastically and the inclusion of new events like these are an attempt to draw in a younger audience after a considerable drop in viewership from the 18-45 demographic was noted. I think these are all strong additions considering the amount of redundancy and peculiar choices that have been seen in the past (Trampoline? Long jump for horses? Tug of war? Solo synchronised swimming?

Also how many swimming events? It’s gotten a bit weird at times.) Muay Thai is being considered with this thought of reacquiring younger viewership in mind. There are some concerns about whether or not Muay Thai could exist in it’s present form and ruleset for Olympic competitions. The 2 minute breaks between rounds and the slow paced first and sometimes fifth round make for a spectacle that is often thought more amenable to gamblers than spectators. Others express concern on entirely the other side of the spectrum about how intensely violently bouts can sometimes end with blood spilling from torn open foreheads or competitors are knocked unconscious as punches, kicks, knees, and elbows clash with skulls. It’s suggested that the amount of rounds are adjusted and some other rule

modifications are put in place. Some of this makes sense to me, the slow pacing you will see in some rounds of Muay Thai are a concern that seem obvious and addressable. My biggest concern would be how intact the sport is as the rule set is modified. There have been various incarnations of Muay Thai done with 3 rounds for newer fighters and in some areas I’ve seen amateurs wear chest protectors and head gear. Whether or not that equipment would be integrated is speculative. My biggest hope is that we don’t end up with a situation like amateur boxing where in practice it is something more like a particularly rough game of tag instead of a combat sport. I’m concerned whether or not things like the sarama music and the wai kru ram muay are included in the match, but I’m not sure how optimistic I feel about that.

The soonest we could possibly see the sport in the Olympics would be 2024, but that’s generally regarded as unlikely. It would seem that 2028 is a more realistic number, though possibly still later than that… if ever.

James Chaney MMA

James Chaney
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