Why are there more delegations to the Olympic Games than countries?

The Olympic Games are the space to bring together athletes from all over the world in one place. This year, the 11,656 athletes participating in Tokyo 2020 represent 206 delegations, but they are more than recognized countries in the world.

The 194 UN-recognized sovereign countries have National Olympic Committees, and nations like Puerto Rico also have their own representatives in Tokyo, even though it is unincorporated US territory. The same is true of Bermuda, which belongs to the United Kingdom and a few other small islands in the Pacific.

The difference between committees and nations dates back to before 1996, when the IOC allowed countries that were territories dependent on others to participate in the Olympic Games. But from 1996, the new National Olympic Committees (NOCs) can no longer be formed, although those already created can participate.

This year, two countries did not send their representatives due to the COVID-19 emergency: North Korea and the Republic of Guinea.

Russia also cannot participate with its own flag due to the doping scandal that resulted in its suspension from international tournaments for two years. However, 335 Russian athletes were able to demonstrate that they had no role in the doping conspiracy participating under the neutral flag of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

This year, the Olympic team of refugee athletes is also competing. Their first appearance was at the Rio 2016 Games and consisted of 10 athletes from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This year, 29 athletes participate in 12 competitions.

Facts and figures about the Olympic Games

Team USA is the largest delegation at Tokyo 2020, with 657 athletes, even overtaking host Japan, which gathered 615 athletes.

The smallest delegations are Andorra, Bermuda, Brunei, Central African Republic, Dominica, Lesotho, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Nauru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Somalia, South Sudan and Tuvalu, with only two athletes each.

2,176 athletes from 200 countries will seek a medal in the 47 track and field events, the competition with the most competitors.

Countries like Bolivia, Cambodia, Honduras, Nepal and Yemen are on the list of 72 nations that have never won an Olympic medal.

The Tokyo Olympics are also the first to achieve near gender equality among its participants, as 49% of this year’s contestants are women.

At least 174 athletes openly identify as LGBTQ + at Tokyo 2020, highest number in Olympic Games history

Naomi C. Amerson