This is not fake news: no longer just a beloved game for gambling Chinese seniors to lose money on, mahjong is pushing for a spot at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
In April, mahjong was officially accepted into the International Mind Sports Association (IMSA), joining the ranks alongside bridge, draught, chess, Go, and xiangqi (aka “Chinese chess”). But as with any good success story, mahjong isn’t stopping there. IMSA is trying to turn it into an Olympic sport come 2022.
Chen Zelan, president of IMSA, told reporters on Tuesday, “We are currently applying with the International Olympic Committee (IOC); because in 2022 Beijing will be the host city for the Winter Olympics, we are currently discussing with Beijing’s relevant parties in the hope that international mind sports will develop into indoor events at the Winter Olympics.”
Mahjong is specifically being proposed as a demonstration sport, not an official sport. The medals earned from demonstration sports aren’t included in the official medal count. Sports like badminton and baseball actually started out as demonstration sports that later became official, but others, like sled dog racing and roller hockey, stayed as demonstration events, maybe for the better. Wushu (Chinese martial arts) didn’t even make the cut as a demonstration sport for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, though the IOC did allow China to organize an unofficial international wushu tournament.
Chen explained that because the Summer Olympics events have been settled, it’s unlikely that new events can be added. But there might be a chance with the Winter Olympics, as countries with tropical climates are at a disadvantage. She said, “The International Olympic Committee has always considered the Winter Olympics’ issue of accessibility; consequently, they will add indoor events… to make the Winter Olympics more accessible.” She also added that as the host country, China can propose new events.
But mahjong’s road to the Olympics is still long. According to Chen, the sport only holds “observer” status in SportAccord, the umbrella organization for all international sports federations. For mahjong to be included in the Olympics, it has to first become an official member of SportAccord, and then an officially recognized sport by the IOC. So don’t get your hopes up too high yet for your neighborhood Chinese senior to become a breakout star and take Olympic gold.
Cover image by Flickr user moohaha