The World Games
World Games logo.png
First event1981 – Santa Clara, California, United States
Occur every4 years
Last event2017 – Wrocław, Poland
Next event2022 – Birmingham, Alabama, United States
PurposeTo conduct multi-sport events for sports and disciplines that are not contested in the Olympic Games
WebsiteThe World Games

The World Games are an international multi-sport event comprising sports and sporting disciplines that are not contested in the Olympic Games. They are usually held every four years, one year after a Summer Olympic Games, over the course of 11 days. The World Games are governed by the International World Games Association, under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee.

In the most recent editions, between 25 and 30 sports have been included in the "official" programme. A number of sports or disciplines that were on the programme of The World Games have been discontinued because they are now included in the programme of the Olympic Games. Around 3500 participants from around 100 nations take part.

The World Games differs from other multi-sport events, such as the Olympic Games, in that host cities are not required to construct new venues or facilities for the Games.[1]: 9  The competitors are selected by the sports' international federations, as opposed to by National Olympic Committees or national governing bodies. In most disciplines, qualification is by a top ranking at the world championships or a qualification tournament. This is intended to ensure the top athletes in a sport compete at the Games.

The event is officially known as "The World Games", spelled with a capital T.[2]

The first edition of The World Games was held in Santa Clara, USA in 1981, and the next edition will be held in Birmingham, USA from 7–17 July 2022, having been delayed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.



The idea for a multi-sport event for non-Olympic sports came from the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). Realising that there were few opportunities to become part of the Olympic programme, non-Olympic federations wanted to form their own showcase event to increase the publicity of their sports, which they called The World Games. These federations formed a steering group in early 1979 to decide on the structure and principles of the games and search for a venue.

In May 1979, the steering group announced that they had found a venue for the first event: Santa Clara, USA.[3]

The GAISF steering committee became the World Games Executive Council in October 1979, and the inaugural meeting of the World Games Council was held on 19–22 May 1980, with a purpose of creating the concept of the Games.[4] The World Games Council was renamed the International World Games Association, or IWGA in 1985.[5]

The first edition of The World Games was held in Santa Clara, USA, in 1981. It was opened by Kim Un-yong, President of The World Games I executive committee. at Buck Shaw Stadium.[6] At the opening ceremony, the athletes marched sorted by sport and not by nation.

The 15 sports at the inaugural games included badminton, casting, racquetball, and taekwondo. The first medals of the Games were awarded in the 640 kilo class of tug-of-war, with the gold going to the team from England.[7]

Twentieth century

After the inaugural Games, the West Nally Group, which had provided financing for the Games in Santa Clara, became owners of the rights to the event, and took the second edition to their headquarters in London.[8]

For the third Games in Karlsruhe, 1989, the West Nally Group still owned the commercial rights to the Games, but the host city was responsible for the staff and volunteers organising the event. After this, the IWGA bought back the commercial rights, and the organising committees of the host cities have been responsible for the organisation and financing since. This led to the organisers of The World Games in The Hague (1993) asking the participants to pay accommodation costs.[9]

The 1997 edition of the Games was due to be held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but in August 1994, Port Elizabeth pulled out of hosting the Games due to the political situation in the country.[10] Lahti in Finland volunteered to host instead and signed the host contract in January 1995. Airsports, dancesport, aerobics and jujitsu made their debut in Lahti and have been contested at the Games ever since.[10]

Following the Games in Lahti, the IWGA and IOC agreed on a memorandum of understanding, which was signed in 2000[10][11] Here, the IOC recognised the importance of The World Games and set out shared values, including the IOC providing patronage to Organising Committees, encouraging multi-sport national teams, and working together on anti-doping. It also set out that "disciplines/events of sport that are not on the Olympic Games programme could be included on the programme of the World Games".[12] A further memorandum of understanding was signed in 2016.[13]

Twenty-first century

In 2001, the Games were held in Akita, Japan – the first time it had been held outside of North America or Europe. Several competitions were delayed or moved to an alternative venue when a typhoon hit the city. For the first time, some National Olympic Committees organised hotel accommodation for their athletes, beyond the time they were hosted by the IWGA.[14]

The World Games in 2005, in Duisburg, Germany, were the first World Games where athletes paraded into the opening ceremony grouped by nation. Also several standards were set in place which continue to this day, such as the television production of all sports and sports grouped by category, such as ball sports and precision sports.[15]

The 2013 Games in Cali, Colombia were particularly noted for the large numbers of spectators, estimated at 500,000. For example, the Bullfight Ring, which was the venue for dancesport, was 'packed' for the salsa dance finals.[16] This edition of the Games saw the first time a competition was cancelled: due to concerns about temperature and air flow at the Del Pueblo Gymnasium, where the sport of rhythmic gymnastics was taking place, the ribbons event was cancelled.[17]

The 2017 Games in Wrocław, Poland were the first to be broadcast on the Olympic Channel, to 130 countries. Both the raffa and lyonnaise disciplines of boules were cancelled after a storm destroyed the venue and it could not be repaired in time.[18]

In 2015, it was announced that the 11th edition of The World Games was to be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA in 2021, beating bids from Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia.[19] On 2 April 2020, the Games were postponed to 2022 so as not to clash with the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo due to the coronavirus pandemic.[20][21][22]

No parasport federations are currently part of the IWGA, but The World Games in Birmingham will be the first edition to include parasports, with the inclusion of wheelchair rugby, and disabled athletes (one per gender) will compete in archery.[23] The IWGA is also aiming to secure a partnership with the International Paralympic Committee and include a quota for para-athletes.[1]: 1 

In 2019, it was announced that The World Games in 2025 will take place in Chengdu, China.[24]



In order for hosting to be sustainable, organisers of The World Games are not required to build any new venues or facilities.[1]: 9  For example, Sloss Furnaces, a former pig iron-producing blast furnace now in public use, will host the sport climbing, breakdancing, parkour and beach handball competitions in Birmingham 2022.[25] Athletes will stay at the student accommodations of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, several of whose sports facilities will be used for various events.[23]

Past venues have included the Lahti City Theatre (bodybuilding), Landschaftspark Nord (a former iron foundry in Duisburg), Wrocław Zoo, and Wrocław's Philharmonic Hall, the National Forum of Music.[10][15][26]

Even though it is not required, some venues are constructed or renovated for The World Games. For instance, for the 2017 World Games in Wrocław, a new swimming pool and speed skating rink were built, and Olympic Stadium, built in 1928, was renovated and is still used for American football and speedway.[18] Also, for the 2009 World Games, Kaohsiung built a National Stadium – the first stadium in the world to use solar energy technology for its power.[27]

Athlete selection

Athletes are selected to compete at The World Games by their sport's international federation, as opposed to their sport's national governing body or National Olympic Committee, as in other multi-sport events.[28] The selections are intended to "achieve a satisfactory balance between competitors' positions on world ranking lists and the fair representation of as many as possible of its member nations".[29]: 13 

International federations are obliged to send their best athletes, with The World Games development agenda setting out that sports are only to be included if "the best athletes/teams in the world are present".[1]: 10 

International World Games Association

Main article: International World Games Association

The International World Games Association (IWGA) is the international association responsible for the direction and control of The World Games. Its headquarters are located in Lausanne, Switzerland, and its official language is English.[30]

Its membership consists of 39 international sporting federations.[31] It also works very closely with the Local Organising Committees (LOCs), temporary committees responsible for the organisation of each World Games. LOCs are dissolved after each Games. The IWGA is officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee.


Opening ceremony

The opening ceremony marks the official start of The World Games. Until Duisburg 2005, athletes paraded into the ceremony grouped by sport. From 2005, they were grouped by nation, and now march in alphabetical order, with the host country and then the judges last.[15][32]

The Athletes' Oath is taken by an athlete of the host nation, and the Judges' Oath is taken by the chairman of the Tournament Judges' Commission. Parading of flags, speeches and official opening also make up the required parts of the ceremony.[32][33]: 55  There is also often a musical and artistic aspect of the ceremony. For example, more than 400 artists took part in the opening ceremony of the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw.[33]: 55 

Athlete party

Since 1993 at The Hague, an athlete party has been held in the middle of the competition, and a similar event is planned for Birmingham 2022.[33]: 270 [34] It was intended to allow all athletes to participate in at least one ceremony (opening, athlete party, or closing) during the competition.[35]

Closing ceremony

The closing ceremony ends The World Games and follows the last awards ceremony.[32] Official aspects include speeches, a presentation by the next host city and a handing of the flag of the Games to the representatives of the next host city. In Wroclaw, the second part of the ceremony was a concert performed by local artists.[33]: 56 


Overview of The World Games Editions
Year Edition Host Opened by Official
Nations Date Athletes Officials Top nation
1981 1 Santa Clara,  United States Kim Un-yong 15 1[a 1] 104 58 25 July – 2 August 1981 1400 (est)[37] 293  United States
1985 2 London,  United Kingdom Charles Palmer 20 1 134 51 25 July – 4 August 1985 1410 333  Italy
1989 3 Karlsruhe,  Germany Juan Antonio Samaranch 18 2 103 50 10 – 20 July 1989 1359 285  Italy
1993 4 The Hague,  Netherlands Kevan Gosper 21 4 160 67 21 July – 1 August 1993 2026 418  Germany
1997 5 Lahti,  Finland Juan Antonio Samaranch 20 6 164 60 7 – 11 August 1997 2016 430  United States
2001 6 Akita,  Japan Toyama Atsuko 22 5 170 80 16 – 26 August 2001 2380 591  Russia
2005 7 Duisburg,  Germany Otto Schily 26 6 178 93 14 – 24 July 2005 3149 638  Russia
2009 8 Kaohsiung,  Chinese Taipei[a 2] Ma Ying-jeou 25 5 155 84 16 – 26 July 2009 2908 636  Russia
2013 9 Cali,  Colombia Angelino Garzón 26 4 194 91 25 July – 4 August 2013 3103 682  Italy
2017 10 Wrocław,  Poland Thomas Bach 27 4 219 111 20 – 30 July 2017 3430 856  Russia
2022 11 Birmingham,  United States 30 5[38] 223[39][40][41][42][43] 98 7 – 17 July 2022 3633
2025 12 Chengdu,  China
  1. ^ An invitational sport programme did not exist for the 1981 World Games. Press coverage did not refer to water polo as an invitational sport. An agreement was reached with FINA in the lead-up to the games not to allow women's water polo athletes to march in the opening ceremony, to assuage the displeasure of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its being included in the programme.[36]
  2. ^ The Taiwan Republic of China (Taiwan) is recognised as Chinese Taipei by International World Games Association and the majority of international organisations it participates in due to political considerations and Cross-Strait relations with the People's Republic of China.


Official sports

For The World Games in 2017 and before, official sports were selected solely by the IWGA. Only sports whose international federations were members of the IWGA could be selected.[29]: 13–14  From 2022, the official sports are selected by both the IWGA and host city and can include some sports whose federations are not part of the IWGA.[1]: 10–11 

As formalised in the memorandum of understanding, "only events that are not on the programme of the Olympic Games can be included in the programme of The World Games".[13] For example, canoe polo is a discipline at The World Games, while canoe sprint and canoe slalom are disciplines at the Olympic Games, despite all three being governed by the International Canoe Federation.

Sports which have been contested at all editions of The World Games are bowling, finswimming, trampoline and tumbling disciplines of gymnastics, karate, powerlifting, roller sports, tug of war and water skiing.

Invitational sports

In addition to the official sports, the host city, in coordination with the IWGA, has been allowed to invite sports to participate in the individual programme. Therefore, these sports can be those whose international federations are not part of the IWGA.[29]: 13–14  For example, the Birmingham Organising Committee have selected men's lacrosse (women's being selected by the IWGA), duathlon, flag football, wushu, and wheelchair rugby.[38]

Some sports or disciplines started in The World Games as invitational sports and then became official, often as their international federations became part of the IWGA. These include the lyonnaise discipline of boules sports, beach handball, sumo, and indoor tug of war.

In future Games, there will be no distinction between official and invitational sports. The host city is still able to select up to five of their own sports, but they are designated "official" sports, rather than invitational. In addition, the host city will be able to designate "display sports".[1]: 10–11 

Olympic sports

Sports or disciplines which have been part of The World Games and the Olympics include badminton, baseball and softball, rugby, taekwondo, triathlon, beach volleyball and water polo.

Karate, sport climbing and surfing made their Olympic debuts in 2021 in Tokyo.

Table of sports

Main article: World Games sports

Sport Official Invitational Olympic
Aikido 1989–2005
Air sports Parachuting: 1997–, Paragliding: 2013, Aerobatics: 2017,
Paramotoring: 2017, Drone racing: 2022
Archery Field: 1985–, Target: 2017–
American football 2005, 2017, 2022[b 1] Demonstration: 1932
Badminton 1981 1992–
BaseballSoftball Baseball: 1981, Softball (men): 1981,
Softball (women): 1981–85, 2022
Softball: 2009–2013 Baseball: 1992–2008, 2020,
Softball: 1996–2008, 2020
Baton twirling 1993
Billiards sports Carom billiards, Pool, Snooker: 2001–
Bodybuilding 1981–2009
Boomerang[44] 1989[44]
Boules sports Petanque: 1985–, Lyonnaise: 2001–, Raffa: 2009–2017 Lyonnaise: 1997
Bowling Ten pin: 1981–, Nine pin: 2005 Demonstration: 1988
Canoe Canoe polo: 2005–, Marathon: 2022 Marathon: 2013
Casting 1981–1985, 1993–2005
Cycling Artistic: 1989, Cycle ball: 1989
Dancesport 1997–
Dragonboat racing 2005–2009
Equestrian Vaulting: 1993 Vaulting: 1920
Finswimming 1981–
Fistball 1985–
Floorball 2017– 1997
Flying disc Ultimate: 2005–, Disc golf: 2001 Ultimate: 1989[44]
Gateball 2001
Gymnastics[b 2] Trampoline: 1981–, Tumbling: 1981–, Acrobatic: 1993–,
Aerobic: 1997–, Rhythmic: 2001–, Parkour: 2022
Trampoline: 2000–
Handball Beach: 2013– Beach: 2001–2009
Hockey Field, indoor: 2005
Ju-jitsu Duo: 1997–, Fighting: 1997–, Ne-waza: 2013–
Karate Kata: 1981– , Kumite: 1981– 2020
Kickboxing 2022 2017
Korfball 1985– Demonstrations: 1920, 1928
Lacrosse Women's: 2017, Women's 6v6: 2022 Men's 6v6: 2022 Demonstrations (men's): 1928, 1932, 1948
Lifesaving Pool: 1985–, Beach: 2001–2009, Combined team races: 2001–2009
Military pentathlon 1997
Minigolf 1989
Motorcycling Motocross: 1985, Speedway:
1985, 2017, Indoor trial: 2005
Muaythai 2017–
Netball 1985–1993
Orienteering 2001–
Pesäpallo 1997 Demonstration: 1952
Powerlifting 1981–
Racquetball 1981–85, 1993, 2009–2013, 2022
Roller sports Artistic: 1981–, Roller Hockey: 1981–1993, 2001, Inline Hockey: 2005–, Speedskating: 1981– Demonstration (roller hockey): 1992
Rowing Indoor: 2017
Rugby Sevens: 2001–2013 Sevens: 2016–
Sambo 1985, 1993
Sport climbing 2005– 2020
Squash 1997, 2005–
Sumo 2005– 2001
Taekwondo 1981–1993 2000–
Tchoukball 2009
Triathlon 1993 1989,[44] Duathlon: 2013, 2022 Triathlon: 2000–
Tug of war Outdoor: 1981–, Indoor: 2005–2017 Indoor: 1993–2001 1900–1920
Volleyball Beach: 1993 Beach: 1996–
Water polo Women's: 1981[b 3] Women's: 2000–
Water skiing 1981–, Barefoot: 1997–2009, Wakeboard: 2001–, Cable wakeboard: 2005 Barefoot: 1993 Demonstration: 1972
Weightlifting Women's: 1997 Women's: 2000–
Wheelchair rugby Low point: 2022
Wushu Sanda, Taolu: 2009–2013, Taolu: 2022
  1. ^ Flag football, a non-tackle discipline of American football
  2. ^ Gymnastics disciplines at The World Games are not those contested at the Olympics.
  3. ^ An invitational sport programme did not exist for the 1981 World Games. Press coverage did not refer to water polo as an invitational sport. An agreement was reached with FINA in the lead-up to the games not to allow women's water polo athletes to march in the opening ceremony, to assuage the displeasure of the International Olympic Committee for its being included in the programme.[36]

Medal tables

All-time nation medal table

Main article: All-time World Games medal table

As of the 2017 World Games

Top ten total medal ranking[45][46][47][48][49][50]
1 Italy153147141441
2 United States[a]145129105379
3 Germany[b]138111140389
4 Russia[c]13711072319
5 France103101105309
6 China695528152
7 Great Britain[a][d]596291212
8 Japan553853146
9 Ukraine[e]424737126
10 Spain414342126
Totals (10 nations)9428438142599
  1. ^ a b The 1997 bronze medalists in aerobics mixed pair were from Great Britain, not United States as stated in IWGA source.[51]
  2. ^ In 2017, Germany was stripped of a gold medal in women's bowling for doping. This table reflects the reallocation of medals for that event.[52]
  3. ^ The Soviet Union, which amassed 36 total medals in 1989, is counted separately from its successor states, including Russia. This is consistent with the separate counting of medals for other states that sub-divided into their constituent successor states following their initial participation in the World Games. These include Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).
  4. ^ The 1981 mixed badminton title was won by a pair of players from Sweden and Great Britain. Both nations are counted as having won a gold medal.
  5. ^ In 2009, Ukraine was stripped of two gold medals in bodybuilding for doping, which are not included here.

All-time athlete medal table

Top ten medal table for athletes[53]

Rank Athlete Nation Sport Years Active Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Jurgen Kolenda  Germany Finswimming 1981–1985 11 0 0 11
2 Steve Rajeff  United States Casting 1981–2005 8 4 3 15
3 Serguei Akhapov  Russia Finswimming 1989–2005 8 4 1 13
4 Patrice Martin  France Waterski 1981–2001 6 1 1 8
5 Anna Poliakova  Russia Sumo 2009– 6 0 0 6
6 Marcello Saporiti  Italy Life saving 1989–1993 5 2 2 9
7 Vasilisa Kravchuk  Russia Finswimming 2005–2013 5 2 1 8
8 Pietro Voltan  Italy Life saving 1989 5 1 2 8
9 Mauro Bertolini  Italy Life saving 1985–1989 5 1 1 7
10= Andrea Holmes  Great Britain Trampoline 1985–1993 5 1 0 6
10= Justine Weyders  France Life saving 2013– 5 1 0 6
10= Shaozhen Li  China Finswimming 1997 5 1 0 6


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