Motorsports & the Olympics Games: 1900, IOC, Regulations,…

If you like to watch Formula 1, NASCAR, or MotoGP as much as I do, you might wonder why you have not seen any motorsports on the Olympic Sport lineup. Many would argue that racing a vehicle does not mean you are a sportsman (woman) and that the activity is not a sport. Has this always been the thinking? Let’s find out. Is motor racing an Olympic sport, or is it not? Has it ever been considered for the Olympics?

Motorsports are not included in Olympic games. However, this was not always the case; motorsports were part of the 1900 Summer Olympics in France. The motorsports events were run in conjunction with the World’s Fair. The International Olympic Committee has not revealed whether these events were “Olympic” or not.  

I did a bit of digging around for more information on motorsports and the Olympics, and found that things have changed drastically since the 1900 Olympics in Paris. I discovered that there does not seem to be much chance of the Olympics featuring motor racing sports any time soon and that the 1900 Olympics is all that the industry has to hold on to. 

If you want to find out more about motorsport racing’s participation in the 1900 Olympics, and why modern-day Olympics might not feature motor racing in the future, read on. 

Motorsports in the 1900 Olympics in Paris, France

The Summer Olympics in 1900, which were run alongside the World’s Fair (“Exposition Universelle”), took about 6 months to complete. 

Motors racing in the 1900 Olympics (in Paris) worked very differently from the way you know and experience racing today. Nowadays, both the vehicle manufacturer and the driver share the spotlight. Back then, it was the manufacturers who stole the limelight, almost entirely. Some of the vehicles in the races included Renault, Peugeot, Delahaye, Serpollet, Panhard-Levassor, Huru, among others. There was even a class for racing electric delivery vans.

The driver’s names were not well known and not particularly advertised. Most of the competitors were actually French, but there were a few other entrants from other countries in attendance. The event received great support and saw various categories of vehicles winning gold, silver, and bronze medals. Although most winners were french, Gilbert Brown managed to win the only gold medal for the USA; he won the fire truck race.

In case you want to find out about the results; all the 1900 Olympic events’ results are documented in the book “The 1900 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events…” by Bill Mallon. That year the motor racing event categories were:

  • 2-seater vehicles: Under 400 kg & Over 400 kg.
  • 6-seater vehicles: Over 400 kg.
  • 7-seater vehicles.
  • Taxi: Electric & Petrol.
  • Delivery vans: Electric & Petrol.
  • Small trucks: Over 1,000 kg.
  • Trucks
  • Fire trucks
  • Both small and large passenger vehicles.

Could a Motorsport Become an Olympic Sport? Is There Hope?

Sports have to prove their eligibility to be included in the Olympic Games. Inclusion means that sports check a number of boxes (or meet stringent requirements). Even so, the Olympic Games have limits on the number of sports and participants allowed in each Olympics event. 

As it turns out, there has been a clause in the rules and regulations that govern how Olympic sports are chosen. In fact, these rules have been around since the early 1900s. In 1908, certain sports that involved mechanical equipment, such as Motor-boating, were part of the Olympics. That all changed when the IOC decided that all sports that depended primarily on mechanical propulsion could not be considered for inclusion in the Olympics. 

“Sports, disciplines or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion are not acceptable”

Rule 52.4.2 – Olympic Charter

According to motorsports.com, this clause was removed in 2007 by the IOC. 

That being said, the FIA (The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobil), which was established in 1904 and which governs motor racing events, may have given motor racing fans some false hope in 2012. This was when the federation signed up as an International Sporting Federation that was (and is) recognized by the International Olympics Committee. This means that the FIA is sitting at the Olympic table, but it does not really mean that motor racing has earned itself a spot in the Olympic Games. 

The FIA has also signed up as a member of the Olympic Charter and aligns itself with the anti-doping standards of the Olympics in an attempt to protect the sportsmen involved in the motor racing industry. Motor racing sports want to hold their sportsmen to a high level of standards (and safety). But that seems to be as far as it goes. 

Why Motor Racing is Not an Olympic Sport

What is it all about? Why is motor racing excluded as an Olympic sport? If you are wondering why motor racing was not considered in the last Olympics, it is quite easy to understand. In fact, in 2012, Jacques Rogge, who was the president of the International Olympic Committee, said it best when referring to F1: 

“Frankly speaking, the concept we are having is the games are about the competition for athletes, not for equipment. Therefore, while having a lot of respect, they will not be included in the Olympic programme.”

Jacques Rogge – IOC president (2001 – 2013)

And that standpoint (or point of view) seems to have remained the same since 2012.

Olympics Sports that Depend Heavily on Equipment (or even Animals)  

For many, the above quote is quite confusing. In the sporting world, and especially in sports included in the Olympics, all kinds of equipment are used in the included sports. Why is motor racing excluded for having equipment or tools, much like other sports? 

Which sports have tools and equipment, you ask? Let’s take, for example, track bikes used, which just happen to be ultra-aerodynamic, enhancing cyclist abilities. Some sports make use of rackets, and some even use animals (take horses, for example) to participate in their competition. Is it to be believed that animals are allowed to be used in the Olympics, but not cars? Arguably, both seem to be methods of transport and items of “equipment” in a sport. 

Are Motor Drivers Athletes? – A Never-Ending Disagreement 

Some might believe that the real issue is that the powers that be do not believe that motor racing drivers are actually athletes. They wouldn’t be the only “nay-sayers”; in fact, there are hundreds, even thousands of people who believe that motor drivers are not athletes by any means.

Some of the reasons why Olympic officials might view racing drivers as non-athletes are because they are considered to simply be drivers, sitting in a seat behind a steering wheel and controlling a machine. It is believed that it is the machine’s durability, strength, and stamina that is being tested and not the driver’s; which could have some merit in an argument, I admit. However, after doing my research, I believe that there are many reasons why racing drivers are athletes.

A counter-argument to the point that race drivers aren’t athletes is one that is hard to overlook. Racing drivers must spend a considerable amount of time on physical training. They have to be fit and healthy because the task of a racing driver is physically exerting (actually demanding). 

For example, the heat inside a racing car can reach temperatures extremely high levels. Therefore, the speed, sweating, and G-force can cause a driver to lose about 3 kg in a single race. And if the driver does not have good core strength, he will find it hard to control the vehicle at high speed, going around bends/corners, with G-force imposed on him. 

In my humble opinion, there is no denying that racing drivers are athletes and that the vehicles they drive are part of their “equipment”, such as a tennis player’s racket or cyclists’ bikes. 

That said, the decision seems final – and while some forms of motor racing do not particularly need Olympic inclusion; it might be nice to see our favorite teams battle it out in the Olympics and bring home the gold. 

The Olympic Sports Dilemma for Motor Racing

While the motor racing sports might like to see themselves featured on an Olympic lineup in the future, it does not seem as if that is going to happen any time soon. When you consider the success of the likes of F1, MotoGP, NASCAR, and Indy, it is obvious that the success and support of these sports are huge already. Do they even need representation in the Olympics? Perhaps the motorsport industry should start a version of the Olympics of its own.