Why Isn’t Muay Thai An Olympic Sport Yet A Complete Analysis

Muay Thai fighters competing in the ring.

Without a doubt, Muay Thai is one of the most highly respected and efficient striking sports on the planet. Recognised throughout the globe as perhaps the greatest of all stand-up striking disciplines. People are wondering why is Muay Thai is not an Olympic sport?

With a provisional status being given in 2016. Muay Thai now finds itself in the preliminary stages of the application process for the Olympics. During the subsequent 3 years, their governing body received $25,000 in annual grants and can later apply for inclusion to the games.

We have to remember the type of discipline Muay Thai is and try to picture how it would fit into the Olympic sports Mozaic. As it stands Muay Thai is a full-contact shin on shin, elbow to head combat sport.

But what would it look like once it has been sanitised so that it becomes palatable for the casual sporting fan? Or those who perhaps may never have even seen the often brutal sport before?

It’s a realistic question because it clearly won’t be in the same format that we see today. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is looking to bring in new sports which will help try to stem the exodus of the 18 – 45 demographic.

In a trend that the games have seen getting worse. With the loss of some 17% viewership in the key age groups that have the television networks who licensed the broadcasts until 2032, pretty worried.

So what would a casual fan-friendly version of Muay Thai look like? And what would long term fans of the sport actually think?

“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”.

Bangkok Post

As fans of the ancient discipline, do we want to see a watered-down version, just so that it can make the Olympic sports cut? While there will no doubt be a financial windfall from its inclusion. What does it do for the actual integrity of the sport itself?

Getting Olympic Provisional Status

It should be noted that while provisional status does sound like very good news. It is but the very first step on a long road to possible full acceptance somewhere down the road. It by no means guarantees that we will someday see Muay Thai included in the games, but it’s a start.

Two Muay Thai fighters in the ring with an onlooking crowd.
Two Muay Thai Fighters competing inside the ring.

And for now, there may be a long road ahead before we see some real progress toward the eventual goal. With its status now being that of an International Sports Federation (IF).

The next phase saw the implementation of the anti-doping code. With its competitors being tested in and out of competition. While at the same time maintaining the rules set out in the Olympic charter.

So while Muay Thai may receive recognition from the IOC. This does not automatically guarantee that it will at some point in the future be included in the games. As the sports Internation Federation will still have to file a petition which establishes the criteria for admittance.

The IOC will then analyse the petition and make a determination as to whether the sport is a viable addition, and in what format? Meaning whether it will be included as an Olympic sport, a discipline with a sport or an event, that constitutes a competition within a discipline.

And while the rules for inclusion vary somewhat between a new sport, discipline and event. The end goal is still the same.

Amateur Style Muay Thai

So that Muay Thai can become a fully-fledged member of the Olympic sporting family. Certain concessions or changes may have to be made. As the IOC looks to claw back some of its diminishing viewership. It could very well alter the current format in which fights takes place.

Namely the potential shortening of the bouts in terms of rounds. Removing rounds one and five which are a part of the feeling out and winding down process of the fight in its entirety. And not really conducive with a young audience who want more non-stop action.

Pro fights also have two-minute breaks between each round. Which is not something that would suit a live broadcast. And may cause the IOC to again make some adjustments.

And what about the actual protection that will have to be used. As it will be an amateur competition, fighters will have to wear both headgear and shin guards. With headgear being somewhat of an obstacle to utilising knees in the clinch.

Regardless of that, fighters will have to progress through a series of rounds to reach the eventual finals. With fights sometimes ending with several cuts and brutal knockouts. Pure Muay Thai in all its brutality simply would not allow for athletes to repeatedly compete over several days and weeks.

So it’s obvious from the start that the final product will look very different from what most expect to see. And in many ways may be a diminished version of this amazing martial art we have come to know and love.

Muay Thai In The 2024 Olympics

Muay Thai actually began its journey to Olympic inclusion back in 2006. In a long and painstaking process, the first step of which was to join Sport Accord which is an international union of sports federations. Where the sport has to be recognised for five years before moving to the next stage.

And once this was done, it should have allowed the World Muay Thai Council (WMC) to move on to the next phase in the IOC application. However, the internal politics of Thailand got in the way, with things being put on hold for some time.

A Muay Thai fighter lands a high kick on opponent.
Muay Thai fighters wear pads as they would in an Olympic sport.

So through no fault of its own, the entire process was delayed. Pushing it out for several more years than originally intended. And as a result, missing out on a number of opportunities for earlier inclusion.

But now with the entire country and government supporting the push. It looks as though Muay Thai is finally making the right moves which they hope will bear fruit in the not too distant future.

With high hopes that 2024 will be the first Olympic Games where the sport will make its debut. But with some officials being more cautious, saying that 2028 is a more realistic goal. At the very least there is an air of positivity which can only be a good thing.

What Sport Will Be Next

With a policy of only introducing new sports, when discontinuing others. There will need to be some winners and losers in order for the process to move forward.

As certain sports are earmarked for removal. Only then will a slot become free into which Muay Thai can find a home. With all sports doing their best to maintain their position within the games. It was always going to be an issue for some athletes to see their Olympic dreams shattered.

So will its allure be enough to convince the IOC that losing one and bringing in a new untested replacement will indeed be the right move to make? Well, hopefully with such a long process to go through they will have cleared up any preexisting doubts.

With the sport of wrestling having been dropped. Then reaccepted after making several changes to its rules to make it more spectator friendly.

Perhaps Muay Thai’s IF has learnt some lessons which they too can apply to their own application. In the hope that it will avoid the same fate as so many others before them who have tried and failed.

Some Final Words

So with the jury still out in terms of the final decision about Muay Thai’s Olympic future. We can but wonder when the dust settles what the outcome will be. And what will this ancient warrior martial art look like should it make the grade?

In a sport where traditionally fighters are often left barely able to walk, with severe cuts or even internal organ damage. How will it stack up against the more elegant activities like synchronised swimming, horse dressage and gymnastics?

One of the most ferocious of all combat sports, getting its provisional status alongside that of cheerleading? Will there be enough will within the IOC to allow it to move on to its eventual full inclusion?

Well, we would obviously hope so, but with a caveat. Not with the loss of the essence of the sport! As for all of its brutality and pure aggression. Muay Thai is first and foremost a warrior martial art.

Not created in a Dojo, but forged on the battlefields of ancient Siam. So we would hope that its Olympic iteration will at the very least adhere to some of those qualities. Which have made it the most deadly standup striking discipline on the planet.

Tags: