It's common knowledge that poker is not only a game of chance, but a skill or mind sport. It is similar in attributes when you compare it to draughts (checkers) or chess – games involving a lot of intellectual interaction.
And, although neither chess nor checkers are currently acknowledged as Olympic sports, the World Chess Federation is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This fact means that they could, if eligible under the terms of the Olympic Charter, apply for inclusion in future Games.
So, with all of this red-tape, how could poker become an Olympic sport?
Road to Becoming an Olympic Sport
Who decides what sports are eligible to be part of the Olympic Games? At the 2016 Summer Olympics, 28 sports were on the roster, with 5 more due to added to the 2020 Games. The International Olympic Committee has the last word on who is in and who is out. Over the years, many sports have been discontinued by the IOC, games like polo and tug of war.
Now we need to know the path to becoming an Olympic sport to see if poker even has a chance. Well, the first step in the process is recognition as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The term “sport” according to the IOC doesn't have the same connotation as the dictionary definition of “sport” - it is very specific:
Olympic Sports are all the events sanctioned by one international sports federation and may be divided into several disciplines, which are often regarded as separate sports.
The IOC also requires that the particular sporting games, tournaments or other activity must be administered by an international non-governmental organisation that oversees at least one sport. Once a sport is recognised, it then moves to the status of International Sports Federation (IF). At that point, the international organisation in charge of overseeing the sport must enforce the IOC in-competition and out-of-competition testing, as well as abide by the rules set forth by the Olympic Charter.
To actually get into the Games as a sport, discipline or event, the sport must have a broad appeal. In fact, it must be widely practised by men in at least 75 countries and on 4 continents, and by women in no fewer than 40 countries, on 3 continents! And, that's only the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole slew of other rules and regulations that must be met and followed.
What Chance Does Poker Have?
Good news! Poker does have an international organisation that endeavours to promote and develop poker as a mind sport, worldwide.
The International Poker Federation (IFP) is a non-profit organisation that was established in 2009. Its main purpose is to “serve as the global governing body for poker”. In 2010, the IFP secured provisional membership in the International Mind Sports Association (IMSA). With members located in all four corners of the world, you would do well to ask, “ Could the IFP itself now make an Olympic Games application?" No such luck!
Firstly, the IOC has to recognise the International Poker Federation – an unlikely scenario based on its youth. However, there is another way. By joining an organisation already recognised by the IOC, the IFP could get a foot in the door for poker. And, guess what? The International Mind Sports Association (IMSA) is recognised by the IOC for having chess, checkers and bridge on its roster.
Having said all that, while no one doubts the intellectuality of poker, its "sportiveness" is in question. Scientific research of the game by Toronto University, at the request of the IMSA, revealed the prevalence of chance over player skill. Not good news.
Does Poker Even Need the Olympics?
Another question arises: Does poker even need this type of recognition? After all, we have our own “Olympics” - the annual World Series of Poker. However, as good and profitable as the WSOP has been, being part of the Olympic Games would take the sport of poker to another level. It would add more status and prestige to the game, in addition to increasing its popularity and sponsorship level.
That said, at the end of the day, for the vast majority of fans, just playing poker is enough.