Thursday, February 3, 2022

Parade of Nations: Which Countries Are (and Aren't) in the Olympics? (Beijing 2022)

This is an updated version of an article first published in 2012. To see previous versions, view all Olympics articles on PolGeoNow.

World map showing the five continental associations of National Olympic Committees, including all nations eligible for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games.
Map of all countries in the Olympics and their regional associations. By Evan Centanni, modeled after this map.

After the delay to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, the Olympics are back on schedule! The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China officially open tomorrow, February 4th. They'll be the second Olympics hosted by China, after the 2008 Summer Games, and will even use some of the same facilities. 

These are the third Olympics in a row to be held in East Asia, after PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 (actually held in 2021) and only the fourth-ever Winter Olympics to be held outside of Europe and North America, following the 1972 and 1998 games hosted in Japan and the 2018 PyeongChang games in South Korea.

Of course, it wouldn't be an Olympic opening ceremony without the Parade of Nations. But how many countries are there in the games, and is everyone included? Read on for PolGeoNow's updated guide to the roster of Olympic Nations...

How many countries are in the Olympics?

There are currently 206 recognized Olympic Nations, represented by a National Olympic Committee (NOC) in each country. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) presides over the Olympic Games themselves, and the NOCs are divided between five continental associations (see map above).[1] Though NOCs are tied to countries, they're actually required to be separate and independent from the countries' governments.

If 206 countries sounds like too many, don't worry - you're not going crazy. It's true, the United Nations only recognize 195 countries worldwide (See: How Many Countries Are There in the World?). So what gives? Well, it turns out the IOC used to be more relaxed than the UN about requirements for nationhood...

Dependent territories that are Olympic Nations

Before 1995, countries' overseas territories and other dependencies were allowed to qualify for the Olympics on their own, since many are self-governing and technically not "part of" the countries they belong to. The ones that got approved before the rules changed have been grandfathered in, and today ten of those territories hold Olympic Nation status:

World map marking dependent territories and partially recognized countries (de facto sovereign states) that have recognized National Olympic Committees and are allowed by the IOC to participate in the Olympic Games
Click to enlarge: Dependent territories and partially-recognized countries admitted to the Olympics.
 Aruba (Netherlands)
 Bermuda (UK)
 British Virgin Islands (UK)
 Cayman Islands (UK)
 Puerto Rico (US)
 Virgin Islands (US)

 Hong Kong (China)

 American Samoa (US)
 Guam (US)
 Cook Islands (New Zealand)

Unrecognized countries that are Olympic Nations

These days, to qualify as a new Olympic Nation you have to be an "independent State recognised by the international community". The usual way to meet that requirement is to become an official member of the United Nations (UN). But there are actually three non-UN-member countries that also participate:


Taiwan - which is claimed by China but governed as an independent country under a pre-communist version of the Chinese constitution - was allowed to stay after the communist party government in Beijing took over UN representation of Mainland China in 1979. But a compromise deal made at the time requires Taiwan to be called "Chinese Taipei" in the games.[2]

Disputed Palestine, whose claimed territory is largely controlled by Israel, was admitted in 1995 for the sake of athletes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, whose residents don't have Israeli citizenship. Palestine has since been recognized as a UN observer state, but at the time it had no UN status - though it had already been recognized individually by about 100 of the world's countries (more than half of the UN's members).

Learn More: Who Controls What in the Israel-Palestine Dispute?

The third non-UN country in the Olympics, Kosovo, is a more recent addition. A region that controversially declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has been blocked from UN membership by objections from Serbia, Russia, and other countries. Still, the IOC decided to admit Kosovo as an Olympic Nation in 2014 after about 55% of UN member countries had recognized it as independent.

Which countries are new to the Olympics?

No entirely new Olympic Nations have been approved by the IOC since the PyeongChang 2018 games. In between 2018 and the delayed "Tokyo 2020" games this past summer, two countries changed their official names at the Olympics, but in the short time since then, not even any names have changed.

The last time there were any entirely new Olympic Nations was the Rio 2016 games, which introduced Kosovo, the disputed breakaway state mentioned above, and South Sudan, which became independent and joined the UN in 2011 before being approved as an Olympic Nation in 2015. Before that, the last Olympics to include new countries were the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, when the Marshall Islands, Montenegro, and Tuvalu were first added to the list.

Which countries aren't in the Olympics at all?

There's only one UN-recognized independent country not eligible for any of the Olympic Games. That's Vatican City, the independent Catholic Church headquarters in Rome, which has never applied to join. Still, despite the inclusive and worldwide mission of the Olympic Games, not all applicants have been allowed in.

The ten dependent territories allowed to participate in the Olympics are only a select few, leaving most of the world's overseas dependencies without their own teams (though athletes from the territories are allowed to try out for their patron countries' teams). Self-proclaimed countries not recognized by the UN aren't usually admitted either, even if they're effectively independent. In fact, there are quite a few dependent territories and unrecognized countries that have created National Olympic Committees, or said they plan to, but haven't been recognized by the IOC:

Countries not in the Olympics: World map marking independent countries (de facto sovereign states) and dependent territories that don't have IOC-recognized National Olympic Committees, and are thus not allowed to send their own teams to the Olympic Games
Click to enlarge: Territories and self-proclaimed countries not allowed to send teams to the Olympics.
 Somaliland (self-proclaimed country)

 Anguilla (UK territory)
 Montserrat (UK territory)
 Turks & Caicos (UK territory)

Kurdistan (autonomous region of Iraq)
 Macau (autonomous region of China)[3]

 Abkhazia (self-proclaimed country)
 Catalonia (region of Spain)
 Faroe Islands (associated state of Denmark)[4]
 Gibraltar (UK territory)
 Northern Cyprus (self-proclaimed country)
 South Ossetia (self-proclaimed country)

 New Caledonia (territory of France) [5]
 Niue (associated state of New Zealand) [5]
 Norfolk Island (outlying island of Australia) [5]
 Northern Mariana Islands (US territory) [5]
 French Polynesia (territory of France) [5]
 Tokelau (territory of New Zealand) [5]
 Wallis and Futuna (territory of France) [5]

How many countries are attending the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games?

Being an Olympic Nation doesn't necessarily mean you end up sending athletes to every Olympics. And unlike the Summer Games, which often do feature every single recognized Olympic nation, it's normal for a lot of countries to skip the Winter Olympics. Not surprisingly, most of the absentees are tropical countries where there are few chances to practice winter sports - though there are always a few exceptions. 

This year there are 90 nations participating in the games - just one short of the record 91 in the PyeongChang 2018 games. One other team, made up of athletes from Russia, will be participating under the name "ROC" - an acronym for "Russian Olympic Committee", though they won't be allowed to use that full name. Technically these athletes don't represent the Olympic nation of Russia, which is banned from the Olympics until 2023 because of a drug-related cheating scandal

Combining the 90 official participating nations with the "ROC" group, there will be 91 total teams in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Wikipedia has a full list of the participating teams, complete with links to the athlete rosters for each country. There's also a complete, ordered list of the 2018 Parade of Nations countries and flagbearers.

About 20 of the Beijing Winter Olympics teams are from tropical countries and territories. In fact, two decidedly non-snowy countries - Saudi Arabia and Haiti - are sending athletes to the Winter Olympics for the first time ever. Others joining this year after skipping last time include the Caribbean island country of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the US territories of American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, while returning tropical participants include countries like Ghana, Malaysia, Jamaica, Madagascar, and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the only real cold northern countries missing from the list are (technically) Russia, due to the ban on its official national team, and North Korea, whose national team is temporarily suspended after refusing to participate in the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo.* Still, there are a few countries with snowy mountain ranges - like Nepal, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan - that are also sitting it out this winter.

The much talked-about "diplomatic boycott" of the Beijing Winter Olympics, staged by the US, Australia, and several other countries in protest of human rights abuses by the Chinese government, doesn't affect which countries' athletes participate. It only means that members of those own countries' governments won't attend the games as audience members. No country is banning its people from competing in the games except for North Korea, whose team would have had to participate as independent athletes anyway because of its suspension.

Learn More: What is North Korea, and how did it become divided from the South?

*North Korea, which said it needed to skip the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID concerns, is the first country ever punished for refusing to participate. It's suspension was made under a 1999 rule instituted to discourage countries from boycotting the games.

Are you watching the Parade of Nations? Tweet to us at @PolGeoNow with your thoughts or questions!


[1] The five associations are based closely on the world's continents, but with a few quirks: The southern Caucasus, Israel, and eastern Turkey are part of the European association despite traditionally being considered part of Asia; and the South American territory of French Guiana also falls under European jurisdiction, because it's considered part of France and doesn't have a separate team.

[2] "Chinese Taipei" is intended to be ambiguous, since most Taiwanese people consider themselves to be at least culturally Chinese. However, the use of "Taipei" is unfortunate for the two-thirds of Taiwan's people who don't live in or near the city of Taipei. This was especially awkward when the 2009 World Games (an Olympics-affiliated event) were held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan - something of a rival city to Taipei. 

[3] Although Macau's NOC isn't recognized by the IOC itself, it has been accepted as a member of its continental organization, the Olympic Council of Asia. Macau participates in the Asian Games and Paralympic Games, but not in the regular Olympics.

[4] The Faroe Islands participate in the Paralympics, but haven't been accepted for participation in the regular Olympics.

[5] Seven dependent territories in Oceania are associate members of the Oceania National Olympic Committees. They're allowed to participate in some regionally-organized sporting events, but not in the Olympics.