Tug-of-war was contested in the Olympics until 1920
Some groups are pushing for it to make a comeback
With golf, rugby joining the list of sports, there appears to be no more room on program
Tug-of-war officials hope to make their case to Olympic officials next year
Every four years, U.S. audiences are re-introduced to all manner of lesser known sports: fencing, handball, even ones they may have tried themselves, like trampoline.
But there’s one sport that many Americans are familiar with that used to be in the Olympics, until it got the boot nearly a century ago.
According to the International Olympic Committee, tug-of-war was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920, and the United States actually swept all three medals in 1904 when the games were held in St. Louis.
These days, most people don’t think of tug-of-war as the domain of Olympic athletes. It has the reputation of being a playground pursuit for children or the occasional team-building exercise.
But an international governing body, the Tug of War International Federation, has more than 60 member associations worldwide, and annual world championships are held for both indoor and outdoor events.
Read more: The 10 strangest Olympic sports
In the United States, while not officially recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the sport is enjoyed by a group of devotees in the Midwest.
Shelby Richardson, the President of the USA Amateur Tug-of-War Association, says the sport these days is played mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, though she has been contacted by people all over the country about setting up teams and competitions.
There are officially sanctioned events held in the summer months in those states, and a national championship held each year, most recently in Monroe, Wisconsin, on July 21.
Teams from the United States have competed well worldwide. In 2004, the U.S. women won gold at the world championships, and Richardson says the current teams continue to be among the best in the world.
As for returning to the Olympics, that’s a different matter entirely. The most recent discussions between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Tug of War association were nearly a decade ago, when the organization was told would need to grow considerably in terms of funding and participation.
Mark Jones, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, tells CNN he is not aware of any future plans for the USOC to be involved with Tug of War.
As for international competition, Richardson says the IOC is slated to meet with TWIF to reopen discussions about potential inclusion in the Games. That conversation is slated for 2020, and the earliest you would see the sport back in the Olympics is 2024, she says.
According to the Tug of War International Federation’s annual meeting notes from 2011, officials have had preliminary discussions with the IOC.
On the IOC’s site, however, it says for a summer sport to be included into the Olympic format it “must be widely practised (by men, in 75 countries on four continents; by women, in 40 countries and on three continents).”
There is one other obstacle to tug of war – or any sport being add to the competition. The Olympic charter only allows for 28 sports at the Summer Games. With the re-inclusion of golf and ruby union at the 2016 Games, the program would be full.
Some sports federations hoping for inclusion into the 2020 Games will be asked to make presentations to the IOC in 2013.