The LA28 sports program was officially confirmed by the International Olympic Committee during its annual session on Monday in India with baseball/softball, flag football, cricket, lacrosse and squash providing a mix of new and returning sports to the Olympic Summer Games.
All five were voted in as a single package with two “no” votes from about 90 IOC members. Modern pentathlon and weightlifting will keep their spots on the program while boxing’s spot in the program will remain on pause even after previous IOC assurances that it would be in LA.
“The choice of these five new sports is in line with the American sports culture and will showcase iconic American sports to the world, while bringing international sports to the United States,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “Their inclusion will allow the Olympic movement to engage with new athlete and fan communities in the U.S. and globally.”
After nine sports made presentations to LA28, the final five have a wide variety of followings. Flag football and squash would be Olympic debutants while cricket was held at the 1900 Games and lacrosse twice, in 1904 and 1908. Baseball and softball have been regularly on the Olympic program including from 1992 through 2008, but were dropped from the program and reinstated only for Tokyo 2020.
• Flag football is the headliner because of the NFL’s involvement in the sport recently, highlighted by the format being used at the Pro Bowl. Even if NFL players do not participate in LA28, having the sport in the Games is a massive win for the NFL in broadening its global reach. On the IOC’s part, having the NFL promoting the Olympics does the same in expanding its reach and marketing to fans of a sport who may have never bothered with the Games in the past. Having gender equality in flag football is a big reason why the IOC was open to the idea of the sport being on the program.
• Baseball and softball have been on-again, off-again with the Olympics. While not official, it’s all but assured that Dodger Stadium will host baseball. UCLA has an on-campus softball stadium but there’s still a chance that softball would also be at Dodger Stadium, which is how the sport was played in Tokyo at the 2020 Games with baseball and softball at one venue. The IOC’s biggest problem with baseball is not having Major League Baseball stop its season for past Games; do not be surprised if some accommodation is made, perhaps allowing some players on MLB 40-man rosters who are in the minor leagues to participate.
• Adding cricket to the Olympic program is expected to raise the value of India’s broadcasting rights for the IOC by at least $100 million, which was one of the driving motivations as both the IOC and LA28 are always on the lookout for ways to expand their financial revenues. The influence of former LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, now the U.S. Ambassador to India, cannot be overstated. One question is whether the U.S. has a team in the competition, which would take a spot away from a more competitive nation in the sport.
• Lacrosse was hailed as the first game played on the American continent by its native people. The sport has been played twice at the Olympics, though not since 1908. In LA, lacrosse will be played in a six-a-side format, a more compact — with younger demographics — version of the sport that makes it more attractive for the IOC. Squash will make its debut after several previous applications to get Olympic status failed.
• Modern pentathlon’s public relations push over the past year-plus at including obstacle in place of equestrian was encouraged by veteran IOC members who privately assured the UIPM that making the switch would ensure it stayed on the program. Weightlifting as a sport does not have the ability to adapt and change its sport like modern pentathlon, so its reliance on admitting the performance-enhancing issues within the sport and proposing real changes to eradicating it allows it to stay on the program.
Reaction Pours In
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner: “It’s a tremendous honor for any athlete to represent their country at the Olympics. We have no doubt that this decision will inspire millions of young people around the world to play this game in the years ahead. The NFL is committed to working together to strengthen flag football’s place in the Olympic movement long term, and we look forward to continuing this exciting journey with IFAF, the LA28 Organizing Committee, the International Olympic Committee and USA Football.”
Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football chief executive officer: “Today is a momentous day for American football. We are incredibly thankful to the IOC and LA28 Organizing Committee for recognizing flag football as a sport worthy of inclusion in the Olympic Games, and we share our excitement and celebrate this historic occasion with the millions of flag football players across our country.”
Riccardo Fraccari, World Baseball Softball Confederation president: “The WBSC firmly believes that baseball and softball will help millions of fans engage with the Olympic Games, especially with USA being home to many of the sports’ best players and biggest stars from across the world. It is going to be an electric atmosphere in LA where the best baseball and softball athletes in the world will have the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in front of a global audience of billions.”
Craig Cress, USA Softball chief executive officer: “To see softball and baseball added to the LA28 Olympic Sport Program is exciting for both the global audience that the sport garners and the United States as the hotbed for some of the most talented athletes to ever play the game and the most passionate fans to fill the stands.”
Paul Rabil, Premier Lacrosse League co-founder and president: “The IOC’s decision today marks a monumental moment for our sport. We’re thrilled that the first game of North America is returning to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The game’s return will be transformative for players and fans around the world.”
Greg Barclay, International Cricket Council chair: “Cricket’s inclusion in the Olympic Games has been a priority for our organization, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase our great sport and athletes at the LA28 Games and hopefully many Olympic Games to come. The fact that the IOC confirmation of our selection occurred here in Mumbai, during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, is truly icing on the cake.”
Klaus Schormann, UIPM president: “Through a democratic process, we came together to create the pathway to a new future, breathing new life into our sport with the idea to replace Riding with Obstacle. This discipline enables our sport to become less costly and complex for organizers, more accessible around the world and more dynamic and exciting for spectators and fans.”
What You Need to Know
One of the complicating factors in developing the LA28 program was that as part of its Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC mandated a cap of 10,500 athletes for the Summer Olympic Games. Baseball and softball had 234 athletes in total in Tokyo at the 2020 Games and flag football had 192 athletes at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama.
Adding those sports — let alone cricket’s T20 format, plus the sixes version of lacrosse and squash — would force the IOC and LA28 organizers to make type of adjustment to the athlete cap. IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell said Friday the proposal for each team sport would be for six-team fields but that has not been confirmed until the program is finalized in 2025.
The 2028 Olympic Summer Games will start July 14 with a dual Opening Ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and SoFi Stadium, with competition going through July 30. Atlanta in 1996 was the last U.S. Summer Games host; Los Angeles will be joining the exclusive group of three-time Summer Games hosts, having been the site in 1932 and 1984.