Powerlifting is the ultimate test of full body strength, and is an opportunity for lifters all around the world to prove that they are the strongest athletes – so how come it isn’t in the Olympics yet?
Why Is Powerlifting Not In The Olympics? Powerlifting is not in the olympics because the sport has yet to reach the criteria set by the International Olympic Committee, it requires more international participation, and it has many federations and disciplines that need to be standardized.
Although it may be discouraging that powerlifting has not yet been accepted into the Olympics, all hope is not lost! In this article, I will discuss what changes we can make to improve the likelihood of powerlifting being in the Olympics and comment on how soon we could expect to see changes.
Editor’s Note: In this article, we mention the IPF, which is the International Powerlifting Federation. While there are many powerlifting federations, this is the governing body for powerlifting that aims to receive IOC approval.
Table of Contents
8 Reasons Why Powerlifting Isn’t In The Olympics
The 8 reasons why powerlifting is not in the olympics are:
- Prevalence Of Performance Enhancing Drugs In The Sport
- Inequality Of Male To Female Members On The Executive Committee
- Insufficient International Interest
- Lack Of Participation In Multi-Sport Games
- Inadequate “Sport For All Commission”
- Multiple Equipment Divisions
- Multiple Federations With Different Regulations
- Long Duration Events
1) Prevalence Of Performance Enhancing Drugs In The Sport
The presence of performance-enhancing substances in powerlifting will affect the likelihood of the IOC accepting the sport into the Olympics. While no sports in the Olympics are 100% drug-free, there have been more issues with barbell sports than other sports.
The IOC is currently having issues with Weightlifting, the only barbell sport in the Olympics, because lifters have been competing using performance enhancers. As a result, they have threatened to eliminate Weightlifting from upcoming Olympics, if no changes are made.
Powerlifting will need to demonstrate that they are making efforts to comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s regulations and that they are making an effort to keep the sport clean, as the IOC has proven that they will not tolerate continued use of banned substances.
Check out my article on Are Powerlifting Meets Drug Tested, where I explain that depending on the powerlifting federation, some competitions have doping control measures in places, and others don't.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
2) Inequality Of Male To Female Members On The EC Board
The most recent feedback from IOC concerning the International Powerlifting Federation’s last application was that the executive committee for powerlifting needed to have 50/50 male to female representatives.
The IOC values inclusivity and equality; therefore, the IPF will need to demonstrate that these values are just as much a priority for them going forward.
3) Insufficient International Interest
While powerlifting has been considered a sport since 1972, in past years it has not been popular enough internationally to gain recognition from the IOC.
The lack of international participation in the sport has been a limiting factor in the past, but may be changing as the sport continues to grow.
4) Lack Of Participation In Multi-Sport Games
The IOC has stated that before Powerlifting can be accepted into the Olympics, the sport must first be present in at least 3 multi-sport games.
The IOC had suggested that powerlifting aim to be incorporated into the Commonwealth Games and University Games in addition to the World Games.
Participation in these major events would prove that there is growing international interest in the sport of powerlifting and the success of the sport in these competition settings could be determined.
Without participating in these events, the IOC may not be convinced that powerlifting is worth the addition.
Even though powerlifting isn't in the Olympics, some powerlifters have found a way to make money in powerlifting. Check out my article that explains how.
5) Inadequate “Sport For All Commission”
In the most recent application for Powerlifting as an Olympic event, the IOC stated that the IPF did not meet the standards of the Sport For All Commission (a movement aimed at promoting that sports are for everyone – regardless of race, gender, or social class).
This means that in the past, the Olympic committee has felt that powerlifting did not demonstrate that they encourage sport as a right for everyone.
6) Multiple Equipment Divisions
There are two main equipment categories in Powerlifting known as Unequipped (Raw), Equipped (Single-Ply, Multi-Ply), which may complicate the recognition process.
The committee must decide whether both divisions would be incorporated in the Olympics or if only one division would be approved.
Would the committee accept the sport and incorporate all divisions, or reject the sport as a whole because of the multiple divisions? It is difficult to say.
7) Multiple Federations With Different Regulations
As powerlifting participation has increased, there have been many different federations that have formed to compete in the sport. With many federations, comes many different competition rules and procedures that each federation adheres to.
An example of this is the foot positioning in the bench press – in some federations, the lifters may bench with only their toes connected to the ground, and others with the whole foot in contact – and differences in 24-hour weigh-ins versus 12-hour weigh-ins across federations.
The dissimilarity across the federations in powerlifting is just another variable that must be addressed before powerlifting can be accepted into the Olympics.
Want to know more about the different federations? Check out the article on USAPL vs USPA
8) Long Duration Events
Powerlifting meets take a long time, as there are 3 disciplines and 9 weight classes for men and women. It would be an even longer event if both unequipped and equipped lifters were to compete.
Will the length alone deter the IOC from recognizing powerlifting as an Olympic sport? Maybe not, but it is definitely something to consider when thinking about keeping the general audience (who may not value relative strength) engaged – especially if all divisions and weight classes were to be included.
Interested in learning more about powerlifting? Check out the article What Is Powerlifting?
How Can Powerlifting Get Into The Olympics?
Here are the 4 ways that powerlifting can get into the Olympics:
- Comply With The IOC Requirements For The Sport
- Grow The Sport Internationally
- Develop Concise Judging Criteria and Competitive Categories
- Continue Promoting A Drug-Free Sport Environment
Comply With The IOC Requirements For The Sport
The IPF has listened to feedback from the IOC and implemented changes accordingly, in an effort to establish powerlifting as an Olympic sport.
The IPF President states “In a vow to keep up our good governance structures we have further promoted the integrity of our sport, the safeguarding of our athletes, the sustainability of our events and the positioning of the youth appeal of powerlifting.”
That being said powerlifting must still participate in at least 3 multi-sport games – of which we have currently only participated in the World Games. However, future participation in The University Games and The Commonwealth Games is being discussed.
The balance of the Executive Board for powerlifting is also not yet equal in terms of male to female representatives; however, this ratio has improved since the IPF’s last application to the IOC.
The IPF must continue promoting powerlifting as a sport for everyone, and make a conscious effort to improve their outreach through social media to encourage more youth participation in the sport. Although, the 2020 annual report stated that youth participation is the highest it has ever been meaning that the sport is heading in the right direction.
Check out my top list of powerlifting women to follow for lifting tips, advice, and inspiration.
Grow The Sport Internationally
We must focus on recruiting more participants through social media and marketing with a special focus on youth as they will be the ones to carry the sport forward.
It is also worth mentioning that the IPF does participate in the Commonwealth Powerlifting Federation, which helps encourage more international participation in the sport.
Develop Concise Judging Criteria and Competitive Categories
In order to further the process for IOC recognition, we need to have standardized criteria by which we judge a lift.
Because the application to the IOC has been submitted by the IPF, it would therefore be their rules that would be implemented in the Olympics. If other federations want to take part in Olympic level powerlifting, they would most likely have to adapt to the IPF standards.
We would also have to consider the number of weight classes that would compete for both male and female lifters. Currently, there are 9 weight classes for both male and female powerlifters; however, as we’ve seen in Olympic Weightlifting, we may have to pick a select number of weight classes to compete (maybe only 6 or 7 classes instead of all 9).
If the length of the events is an issue for the IOC to include powerlifting in the Olympics, it is likely that only raw lifting would be included. The reason for this would most likely be, that raw lifting would be more accepted by the general public than equipped lifting.
Want to learn more about picking your weight class? Check out my article 4 Ways To Choose Your Powerlifting Weight Class
Continue Promoting A Drug-Free Sport Environment
Powerlifting must continue to be diligent with drug testing in and out of competition and ideally return less confirmed cases of performance-enhancing substances to prove that it is possible to keep the sport relatively clean.
With the only barbell sport in the Olympics already under scrutiny because of the number of athletes testing positive for banned substances, we must do better to comply with WADA regulations to have any hope of IOC recognition.
When Can We Expect Powerlifting In The Olympics?
While it is difficult to say for sure, it is possible that powerlifting may attain IOC recognition within the next 5-10 years. However, it could take longer.
We do know that the IPF is constantly making improvements to attain this recognition, and has made it clear that Olympic participation is their ultimate goal.
Why Is Weightlifting In The Olympics And Powerlifting Is Not?
Weightlifting was recognized as a sport in the 19th century and has more international participation than powerlifting, and is generally viewed as more athletic since it is a display of strength and speed – making it more entertaining for the general public.
In addition, Weightlifting only has 2 disciplines (the snatch, and clean & jerk) and requires only 1 command from the judges (signaling the down command), which takes less time to complete than powerlifting would – as it has 3 disciplines all with different commands.
Weightlifting also has 1 category of lifters as there are no equipped versions of the sport and they have 1 federation (the IWF) at the forefront of the sport, rather than dozens of federations as powerlifting currently has.
Interested in transitioning to weightlifting? Check out my article on How To Switch From Powerlifting To Weightlifting.
Is Para-Powerlifting In The Olympics?
Para-Powerlifting has been in the Olympics since 1984, and athletes compete solely in the bench press discipline.
The Para-Powerlifting competition is comparable to the Bench-Only division of the IPF, where athletes have 3 attempts for the bench press and the winner is the lifter who lifts the most kilograms relative to their bodyweight.
The competition follows similar rules to the IPF, including receiving the bar at arm’s length, bringing it down to the chest until the bar is motionless, and pressing the bar back up to a locked out position.
While we are certainly making progress towards getting IOC recognition and achieving Olympic level powerlifting, we are not there yet. With the continued efforts being made by the IPF to comply with the IOC standards, we are well on our way to achieving this goal.