It may be an age-old debate as to whether poker should be classified as a game or a sport, but a newer argument has emerged: should it be pressing its credentials for inclusion in the Olympic Games?
Far-fetched as this may seem, it would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand. That’s because, ever since 2017, match poker has been given something called “observer status” by the Global Association of International Sports Federations. This is an organization that works closely with the International Olympic Committee and which, ultimately, goes on to recommend whether or not a sport deserves full Olympic status. In recent years, the sports that have successfully progressed from observer status to full acceptance have included sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding.
There has even been some interest in eSports, which was included as a demonstration event at the Seoul Winter Olympics – and which might also even open the doors for virtual sports to be considered. As the name suggests, these are computer-generated versions of a wide number of games that are gaining in popularity for their very lifelike recreation of the real thing. Sports that are featured range from soccer to greyhound racing and offer the opportunity to bet on them too. Free from “real world” considerations like bad weather stopping play or injuries to players, they guarantee action and genuinely life-like excitement. Perhaps this may be just a step too far for the IOC to consider at the moment, but things change over time, so it shouldn’t be ruled out for the future.
Whether poker is likely to be added to the current total of 33 sports included in the Summer Olympics depends on a number of factors. The GAISF has a very exhaustive number of tests that all potential applicants for full status have to undergo. The most important of these look at exactly how much skill is involved so poker does have a strong argument on that front. Some might say that luck is also very important, but the same is true for every sport, whether we’re talking about the pole vaulter who makes the bar wobble but not fall or the tennis player who wins a big match on their opponent’s double fault.
It might also be that purists could object to it only being match poker that’s being considered. For the uninitiated, the basic rules of the game are that four teams of four play simultaneously on four different tables. The hole and community cards are the same on each table and the corresponding player on each table is dealt the same cards. Theoretically, this means that being dealt a lucky hand is eliminated and the most skillful players will emerge with the highest winnings.
This would certainly seem to fulfill the Olympic, and GAISF, requirements for a skill-based game, but there is a major practical issue to consider too. This is that there are currently no official national bodies representing poker and it’s these organizations that are in charge of selecting the strongest teams or individuals for each country’s Olympic entry.
This means that a whole poker infrastructure might also need to be created for each participating country. But never say never – we might all be surprised in a few years’ time when we’re hailing the first-ever poker Olympic champion of the world.