The next time you tune into the Summer Olympics, you might see some pole dancers alongside the equestrians, divers, and track-and-field competitors. The Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) has officially recognized pole dancing as a provisional sport, a significant decision that brings the activity one step closer to eventually becoming an Olympic event. And that makes sense: Although it's rarely mentioned in the same breath as, say, baseball or swimming, pole dancing in fact requires an incredible amount of time, athleticism, and strength-training to execute well — just like any other sport.
"It's probably the most athletic, full-body workout I've ever done in my life, and I play sports," Joselle Turner, a former bartender at the Riviera Show Club in Massachusetts, tells Bustle. Turner added that the six months she spent in pole dancing classes was more rigorous than field hockey, track and field, or cheerleading.
The International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) welcomed the GAISF's decision, which paves the way for pole dancing to become an Olympic sport.
"This is a historical day for Pole Sports, our athletes and our community," IPSF President Katie Coates wrote on the organization's website. "In just eight years we have created a sport, ignited a global following and inspired a new generation of sportsmen — women and children. I am thankful to the IPSF and GAISF teams and excited about the future of our sport.”
Professional pole dancers — that is, those who compete in events like the World Pole Sport Championship — have been working to get the sport into the Olympics since at least 2012, and the GAISF's decision to grant pole dancers observer status in their organization is an important step on that road.
To be eligible for the Olympics — specifically, the Summer Olympics — the IPSF first has to clear three criteria: It must be a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency (which it already is), be a full member of GAISF, and have federations in 50 countries across the world. The IPSF currently has 24 federations, according to its website, with an additional seven countries awaiting their application status.
Once the IPSF meets all of those goals, it must then gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee, which requires first receiving provisional recognition. If the IPSF gets that far, it will then petition the IOC to make pole dancing an official Olympic sport. Only after that petition is approved can pole dancers make their debut at the Summer Games.
Administrative details aside, it's difficult to argue that pole dancing shouldn't be an Olympic sport. It requires extensive practice and physical training to learn, athletes compete in it at the professional level, and many would consider it far more physically strenuous than some other official Olympic events.
Not all pole dancers are thrilled with the idea of the sport becoming an Olympic game, however.
"I don't really want pole to be in the Olympics," Wendy Traskos, the owner of the NY Pole Dancing studio, told the New York Daily News. "I like that it is a sport for adults. If it goes into the Olympics it will be overpowered by 16-year-olds. And there will be no place for mature adults.” Even so, Traskos made a compelling case for the inclusion of pole as an Olympic sport, noting that it "requires strength, timing, coordination, flexibility and an extreme amount of dedication."
In addition to pole dancing, the GAISF also awarded observer status to the World Armwrestling Federation, the World Dodgeball Federation, the Federation for International Footgolf, the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting, the International Federation of Match Poker, and the International Table Soccer Federation.