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How electric karting could become the first Olympic motor sport

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Getting motor sport to be recognised as an Olympic event has been considered by some as the final put-down to the ignorant, yet oft-heard, assertion that motor racing ‘isn’t really a sport’.

The FIA’s recent announcement that this year’s Youth Olympics will include an electric karting event will raise hopes this could finally come to pass. However as the FIA’s secretary general for motor sport Peter Bayer explained in an exclusive interview for RaceFans, it’s a plan which has been in the works for many years and could take many more to bear fruit.

Why Ekarting suits the Olympics

Bayer has strong links to the Youth Olympics having run the 2012 edition in Innsbruck, Austria. That same year the International Olympic Committee formally recognised the FIA as the governing body of world motor sport.

The Youth Olympics were inaugurated in 2010 and as well as providing a platform for future Olympians to compete it had also served as a test-bed for future Olympic sports. “In Nanjing, the China Youth Olympics in 2014 they introduced climbing, skateboards,” explains Bayer, “all sports which afterwards made it into the Olympic programme.”

For this year’s Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the IOC and FIA began discussions about promoting road safety information. Competitors in the Youth Olympics are aged from 14 to 18, and road accidents are the number one cause of fatalities for this age group in Buenos Aires.

Discussions about promoting the FIA’s road safety message opened up the possibility for it to promote motor sport alongside it.

“Obviously as my heart is beating for sport, in my conversation with the IOC we basically said that if we bring road safety education we also want to showcase Ekarting,” said Bayer.

Ekarting offers several advantages over other forms of motor racing for being considered worth of inclusion in the Olympics. The lack of emissions and noise associated with traditional motor sport make it more easily acceptable by city hosts of Olympic events.

It also offers a potentially fairer standard of competition, says Bayer. “It also guarantees absolute equal performance level for each athlete which was always one of the issues we were having in history talking about motor sport in the Olympics.

“You take a sailing boat, they produce one design, one make, everyone has the same boat. What’s the different from a sailing boat to a one-make Ekart? Nothing, because now it’s coming down to the driver, the skills.”

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First race in 2022?

Felipe Massa, Formula E, 2018
Karting is a perfect fit for the Olympics, reckons Massa
However the competitors at Buenos Aires 2018 won’t yet have the chance to win the first Youth Olympic medals for Ekarting.

“They said, obviously, you can’t just come in and run a Youth Olympic event with medals and everything,” Bayer explained. “But we would be happy for you to showcase the sport next to the road safety education.

“So what we’re going to do is we are most likely in the Olympic Park, which is featuring most of the sports, we’ll have this big road safety tent which will be very interactive, combined with education elements. And we’ll have karting slalom on offer all day long.

“On top of that we’ll do a demonstration of proper racing at the Autodromo de Buenos Aires, which is currently being discussed to potentially come back to Formula 1. And so there again it starts to align because it’s about road safety, education, the future of motorsport. The city of Buenos Aires is heavily concerned with road safety education but they’re also huge motor sport fans.”

Bayer hopes Ekarting could be ready to join the Youth Olympics when South Africa hosts the event in 2022. Competitors would be drawn from national competitions and then pitted against each other in hears.

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Mixed contest

Significantly, the plan is for a mixed-gender contest, as is traditionally seen in motor racing, rather than a gender-segregated competition typical of the Olympics.

“To take the example of ski jumping, which is a discipline that is kind of difficult to find young talent, they’ve reduced the quotas down to one boy, one girl per country,” explains Bayer. “In the end not all the countries are using the quota, so you could end up with 50 boys, 50 girls. That’s something which is being discussed.”

The prospect of motor sport one day becoming a part of the Olympics remains a long way off. But getting a true motor sport competition into the Youth Olympics is a valuable first step, says CIK FIA karting commission president Felipe Massa.

“I think it’s amazing,” said the 11-time Formula 1 race winner. “We’ve never had cars or motor sport in the Olympics. If they can manage to do that then I think karting is the perfect direction for that.”

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 20 comments on “How electric karting could become the first Olympic motor sport”

    1. Like was already mentioned we consider sailing a sport, we have sports with people riding horses, firing arrows, and I think table tennis also fits in that bracket of not an outright physical contest but a measure of skill.

      I see no reason karting isn’t included. Motorsport is hugely popular but it isn’t currently very inclusive. The odds of a Lewis Hamilton type coming from a modest background are practically impossible with the current pathway through Motorsport. Hopefully if it makes the Olympics it will open it to many more for whom it’s just or of reach to consider. And maybe a few golds for Britain as well.

      1. Even that. Lewis grew up in England, Father took loans insured by their house to get him going. That is hardly a viable route.

        So yeah, considering shooting guns is an Olympic competition… So should be EKarting. Whatever where level playing field is ensured.

        1. @jureo

          Exactly. The odds of a working class family making that big a gamble on their kid, and then their kid being good enough, and then the odds that they’re possibly the best in the world. It’s practically impossible and it’ll never happen again unless there is a grass roots opportunity.

      2. Many Olympic sports are very exclusive as well. Sailing is pretty expensive, as is horse riding. Karting will be like those, the equipment will be the same for everyone, but privileged folks will be better prepared. Honestly, I am OK will that.

        Table tennis is pretty physical by the way, try playing it for an hour and you’ll see. :)

        1. @afonic

          True it’s not ideal having a bunch of typically middle class athletes funded by the stupid tax levied on the poor (lottery). But it’s better than nothing.

        2. Sailing is accessible to upper-working-class people. While you don’t find many people on council estates considering it, youth sailing in areas with good sailing areas (one of which I live in) does contain quite a few people who compete well, that come from families with two full-time near-minimum-wage jobs. Often, they go on to pursue it as a hobby thoughout their childhood, and even do low-level sailing competitions. It’s not as cheap as, say, swimming (which, until international level, costs less than £600 for a full season including all expenses), football or rugby (all of which are Olympic/Paralympic sports) but it’s not as expensive as golf, equestrianism or motorsport (two of which are Olympic sports also). Boats can be hired cheaply for a lot of this phase, so the main expenses are travel to suitable venues and the cost of annual sailing club fees (many clubs have special rates for youngsters, as well as special low-cost classes and free sailing sessions).

          The issue sailing has occurs at the next level, when trying to convert from county-level competition to national-level competition. That tends to require a trailer, camping equipment and a lot of time sacrifice from a parent. Also, a boat, though even an Olympic-level boat tends to be in the low thousands to buy outright.

          Like motorsport, the sponsorship opportunities don’t quite connect with the expenses hike, but it’s not as glaring as motorsport. The price of an Olympic boat just about pays for the expenses to do a season of an entry-level multi-venue arrive-and-drive karting competition (if by “expenses” we also include things like fuel, and enough practise to actually be ready to compete). Even the Corporate Games adds £30 to the charge sheet for athletes competing in karting, due to the extra expenses involved. This is before we consider anything that has a FIA licence requirement attached.

          There are Olympic sports all over the place in terms of expense involved. This has been true ever since the Ancient Olympics – the first 190m running race was won by a cook, which was definitely a working-class occupation. but the lower element of the working class would not be able to afford the gym membership needed to prepare properly for the wrestling, and only the upper classes (Ancient Greece didn’t really have a middle class) could possibly afford enough leisure time to perform well in the pentathlon, once that was introduced.

      3. The distinct difference is the influence of power being generated by the equipment, not the athlete. Even sailing is simply a combination of human and the elements.

        Having a motor is unprecedented in the Olympics, so it’s understandable that there’s concern.

    2. Competitors in the Youth Olympics are aged from 14 to 18, and road accidents are the number one cause of fatalities for this age group in Buenos Aires.

      That’s actually incredibly sad, but also very clever for the FIA to take this opportunity to promote motor racing. Ultimately the final solution to road accidents is regulation of self-driving technology (argumentatively) so it makes sense for them to promote a reason for people to drive, as a sport, along side that.

      Driving on the limit requires the best split second decision making along side incredible intuition with a combination of a forceful hand and the lightest touch. And to do that in concert with the psychology of a race really is an amazing sporting endeavour. I really hope it takes off and the government gets behind supporting their best drivers to push Motorsport competition to new heights.

      As long as the message remains that the place for pushing the limit is on a track as opposed to the streets in a road car (and hopefully the affordability surrounding that can be reduced for all), then this can only be a good thing. Heading in this direction there’s no reason why karting shouldn’t be part of school curriculum even.

    3. Maybe when motorsports is added to the Olympics we can finally see which is the driver with most skill behind the wheel assuming everyone gets the same equipment

    4. suddenly i have an interest in the Olympics

    5. one word – ballast

    6. I’m not so certain about the road safety aspect.

      I was reading Hazel’s article about the last Formula E race where she mentioned the “inevitable contact”, which seems to be one of the “attractions” of FE.

      Is that what we want to teach our kids, that it’s OK to make contact with another vehicle?

      1. You have inevitable contact in many sports, yet most wouldn’t dream of bashing into people while walking down the street. Time and lace for everything – which is what it teaches kids

      2. Is that what we want to teach our kids, that it’s OK to make contact with another vehicle?

        Your reasoning skills are atrocious. Are you constantly up in arms of Rugby? Rugby teaches kids it’s ok to tackle people in the street if they have something you want. Boxing teaches kids it’s ok to just walk up to people and punch them in the face. Football teaches kids it’s ok randomly trash unattended ambulances (wait bad example that one is real).

        1. Also bad example, in that footballers don’t trash unattended ambulances (which in any case rarely appear on pitches during football matches – and when they do, are in situations where the footballers would be more concerned about the reason it has done so than they are about the game itself).

          Crowds that don’t control themselves and are not adequetly controlled teach people it’s OK to randomly trash unattended ambulances, and neither has ever been considered a sport.

      3. If it’s done like the Corporate Games, and not like sometimes happens in F1, then inevitable contact will be preceded by thorough explanation of what contact-avoiding conduct is expected, and followed by inevitable penalisation of whoever caused the collision, if that individual did undertake said action.

        Karting, when done properly, teaches respect of the regulations, notions of justice, persisting in the face of misfortune and good discipline.

    7. I believe the motor sport that should be at the Olympics is Motorcycle Trails, also known as Observed Trails. This is similar to the horse trails that are in the Olympics, except a motorcycle is used. This sort of event isn’t about outright speed, but combines speed and a high degree of skill.
      I don’t know how practical it would be, but considering the increasing popularity of electric cycles around the world, including electric trail bikes, maybe it would be feasible to produce an e-Trails cycle.

    8. Isn’t it sad how every human activity has been turned into a commercial enterprise. Even diabetes has become a heavily commercialized lifestyle ripoff with many people outside the health-care realm making millions from this serious condition. (Let’s not talk about Cancer, ok?). And we truly believe this is social progress.

      I was going to apologize for the political nature of this post but since everything has also been politicized … meh! :)

      I suppose electric karting would be an exciting event.

    9. Sergey Martyn
      18th July 2018, 15:14

      Winter Olympics became a borefest with inclusion of the stupid activities like curling, snowboarding, short track speed skating etc.
      Now they want to artifically include obscure disciplines while removing classic ones like Greek-Roman wrestling which was introduced at ancient Olympics 2.700+ years ago.
      Just check:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_go-kart

      Latest news are dated 2016 and all the links to all pages don’t contain the lists of the winners and even photos (not to mention videas) of the events. Only promotional videos from the manufacturers of electric karts telling how great they are and why you need to buy one withoug hesitating. For what? Empty stands on the dusty rural tracks?
      I sincerelly hope that idea will join the most stupid Olympic disciplines like Club Swinging and Poodle Clipping – if you think this is a hogwash:
      “Poodle Clipping (1900) – For this trial event, 128 competitors assembled at the Bois de Boulogne, a park in western Paris. A giant (for the time) crowd of 6,000-plus watched as they competed to see who could trim the most poodles’ fur in a two hour period. The gold medalist was 37-year-old Avril Lafoule from Auvergne, France, who clipped 17 poodles. After the Paris Olympics ended, poodle clipping failed to get the votes to become an official Olympic sport. Guess poodle clipping was a very emotionally draining activity to watch. Also, how did this become an Olympic sport?”

      Check others:
      https://historymaniacmegan.com/2016/07/05/stupid-olympic-sports/

      If FIA wants this, why not to organize Motor Olympics where folks can drive, boat and fly their most crazy ideas? I believe it will be more interesting for motorsport fans and will attrract much broader audiences. Just check Goodwood Festival of Speed. Otherwise the fans of field athletics will yawn and skip the ekart events, while motor heads will spit into TV screen accidentally switching to live coverage of archery and badminton.
      If FIA wants a presence in classic Olympics why not to send F1 drivers to triathlon or other events? I recall Button did Iron Man triathlone challenges and I admire this. Why not trying the same for the rest of the grid – especially when we hear so much about their diabolical fitness programs and perfect physical fitness needed to sweat few kilograms off in every race.
      My biggest passion is F1, the second one is cycling. Right now I’m watching Tour de France and I spent 4-5 hours a day glued to my TV watching people ride at unbelievable speed uphill or downhill faster than motorway speed limit (or I believe e-kart) on a bike? Last years there were 120-130 kph downhill speeds at the mountains – not in a carbon survival capsule but almost naked on a bike weighing only 7 kGs with only a light helmet on your head. This is what I call the spirit of Olympics and some Grand Tour should be included in the Games, not the artifical events where the spectators are either the relatives of the participants or manufacturers.

      1. I am not sure the powers-that-be would be in favour, as that would be a whole fortnight in which a F1 race could not be scheduled, lest it clash with a championship contender’s event of choice.

        Alfonso de Portago, however, would approve of the sentiment of F1 drivers trying to join the Olympics.

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