WHAT THE FIG: Lessons From Other Action Sports

Some people (and I don’t mean to pick on Jason, he just happened to release his video while I was writing this) have suggested that we should hold off on rallying against FIG when we don’t know all the details. Others (and I mean to pick on Rene and Dylan because they made excellent points and released their media while I was writing this) have said that we know enough to realize that working with F.I.G. = B.A.D.

Jason happened to mention that the athletes going to FISE are athletes, not people who are good at writing essays and putting their opinions out on the internet. I agree. A lot of athletes are not great spokespersons or researchers. Unfortunately, as Rene points out, these same athletes are the commodity here. Their participation is what give FIG power.

The International Gymnastics Federation want parkour for themselves. I’m sorry, this is indisputable. But, we’re not seers, so we don’t know what the exact future of parkour under FIG would look like. We need to look at our sister activities who set a precedent for us.

Parkour is typically classed as an action sport. Sports that are primarily non-competitive “lifestyle” activities, though most also have competitive structures as well. There are many, and almost all of them have controversial experiences and current realities that are not only telling us the answer, they’re screaming it at us. I’m going to discuss some histories of these activities and summaries some takeaways for us, drawing on international, national (particularly NZ because that’s where I’m from), and Olympic perspectives.

Also, see my previous article ‘Parkour in the Olympics: Lessons from Agenda 2020 Action Sports Symposium’ for some further background information.


Windsurfing is supported by the International Windsurfing Association, however, the IOC only recognize World Sailing, and so World Sailing has been in charge of windsurfing at the Olympic level since its inclusion in 1984. In 2012, World Sailing (then called ISAF) voted to remove windsurfing from the Rio 2016 Olympics onward. Huge backlash, including this petition, eventually overturned the decision.

Although windsurfing in New Zealand is governed by Windsurfing New ZealandYachting New Zealand is in charge of windsurfing as it pertains to the Olympics (e.g. selection), because they are affiliates of World Sailing. This means that $ from the IOC to develop windsurfing goes to Yachting NZ who then gets to decide where to spend their money. At the Agenda 2020 Action Sports Symposium the Windsurfing delegate said that they see very little of this money, despite their rights to it.

Take Away:

  • An international federation can drop one of their sport classes from the Olympics if they want to (they tried to).
  • As selectors, a national federation can choose not to send certain sport class athletes to the Olympics (that’s what Yachting NZ did to NZ windsurfers for Rio 2016 – even though most “sailing” Olympic medals for NZ have been from windsurfing).
  • At the Olympic level, if your community is not in control of your own sport, someone else gets to make the decisions.


You can read this brief history of BMX, or read this longer one including an hour long documentary of BMX’s road to the Olympics.

The International BMX Federation was established in 1981 but has since been consumed by Union Cycliste International. No doubt, the fact that cycling and BMX both use bicycles is the reason why UCI integrated IBF.

“BMX rapidly developed a unique sporting identity and it became evident that the sport had more in common with cycling than motorcycling. This was officially recognized in 1993 when BMX was fully integrated into the International Cycling Union (UCI).”

There does appear to be an International BMX Freestyle Federation as well.

BMX NZ fully comes under Cycling NZ as one of their sporting disciplines. That means that funding from the IOC goes to Cycling NZ who get to decide where to spend it. In 2015, $1.6million of Cycling NZ’s $6.2million high-performance budget went to track cycling, versus $291k to BMX ($98k to Road Cycling, $14k to Mountain Biking).

Take Away:

  • Despite the cultural heritage and evolution of your activity, if an international federation thinks your activity is like theirs, they’ll do what they can to appropriate it.
  • If you do not have an identity outside of a governing body, for better or worse you will be at the whims of their funding structure.


Snowboarding competitions started in the ’80s. In response to growing popularity and the need to align the various competition, the International Snowboarding Federation (ISF) was formed in 1990. However, seeing the popularity, the International Ski Federation (FIS) adopted snowboarding in 1994, developing its own rival competitions. The IOC recognized FIS as the official governing body for snowboarding. The battle between the two organizations resulted in ISF going bankrupt and dissolving. From 2002 onward, the international body has been the World Snowboard Federation, but FIS still control Olympic-level snowboarding.

This has resulted in a messy dual governance system and endless controversies between the WSF/snowboarding community and FIS/IOC. Including recent events where FIS failed to listen to the snowboard community ahead of Sochi Olympics and built terrible halfpipe, and that the only way to qualify for the new Sochi slope-style event is to do so via FIS competitions, not the other industry based events that snowboarders actually care about. This was approved by the IOC.

Take Away:

  • The adoption of a sport by another body can result in new competitions and rule formats that get the seal of approval from the IOC.
  • If your sport has events governed by another body, it’s likely that that body will not care about the opinions of the community at large, making decisions that benefit them instead.


Formed in 2004, the International Skate Federation (ISF) has become the defacto international governing body for skate, but not without pissing off the World Skate Federation (WSF) in the process. You’ll also note that skateboarding is going to be at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Although many skateboarders don’t want skateboarding in the Olympics at all; Thrasher sums it up in a way that only skaters could, there has been a lot of conversation with various people over the years about bringing it into the Olympics. BUT…

“According to Simone Masserini executive director of FIRS, the IOC approached FIRS in February 2014 about pitching skateboarding as an Olympic sport at Tokyo.”

The IO flipping C, loving the taste of that sweet sweet money (I’m getting tired and irritable now, so I have no love for these guys), asked the International Roller Sports Federation to govern skateboarding. Although there may be more that happened – I don’t know all the ins and outs – that seems like it wasn’t even FIRS who had the idea. The IOC gave approval for the FIRS to handle skateboarding at the Olympics, but (and look at how much they care/know about skateboarding – not much there is there?) they soon realised that they needed the ISF if it was going to work at all.

It almost all fell apart when “During a May 24th conference call between the IOC Sport department, the ISF, and FIRS, the ISF learned that FIRS wanted to host and govern its own world championship skateboarding events. The ISF crew interpreted that as a direct attempt to infringe on the existing international competition infrastructure.” …after lots of heated debate and fighting, FIRS backed down and won’t run any comps, but “Together, the federations make up the Tokyo 2020 Skateboarding Commission (TSC).”

That seems like at least a partial win, but as soon as another federation gets involved, it causes major headaches – Like Brazil recognizing the Brazil Roller Sport and Hockey Confederation as the body responsible for organizing the qualifying skateboarding events, even though they have zero experience and the Brazil Confederation of Skate have been organizing competitions for almost 20 years. Naturally, FIRS is supporting it.

Take Away:

  • The IOC approaches their existing international federations to try out new things they think are cool.
  • Joint custody of an activity results in epic custody battle fights.


Climbing, like most of these action sports, can be experienced in many different ways. Under the auspices of the International Federation of Sport Climbing, (IFSC) climbing is now going to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Controversially, the format is essentially a “vertical triathlon”, an aggregated score from athletes success at bouldering, lead climbing and sport climbing. The decision to combine the three climbing disciplines was made WITHOUT consultation with the IFSC (their original submission had the events separated with an additional overall medal).

Because the climbing world cup events are now qualifying events for the Olympics, the formats of these events will include the combined medal. This is going to change the way climbers climb. Some key athletes share their thoughts.

Take Away:

  • Even when you get Olympic inclusion under your own body (and you could argue that the disciplines are quite unique and shouldn’t be lumped together), the IOC may make the decision about how your sport is practiced, not you.
  • The outcome of that decision may have dramatic changes on the future of the sport.

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)

OCR is getting more popular and many OCR event organisers want to get it into the Olympics. And it looks like the International Union of Modern Pentathlon (UIPM) agree.

“Dr. Klaus Schormann, for one, was highly pleased. The successful execution of this demonstration sport in Pomona, said Schormann, president of the UIPM, “is a logical step in the evolution” of “our beloved Olympic Sport of Modern Pentathlon,” and “forms part of a confident application by UIPM for the Mixed Relay to be added to the program of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.”

And another article.

“First, the UIPM’s strategy of having the Mixed Relay included in future Olympic Games programs starting with Tokyo 2020 was discussed at length. It was unanimously agreed that this innovative format will include Obstacle Course Racing as part of the Laser-Run discipline. This addition, with strong ties to the historical traditions of the Modern Pentathlon, will add additional value to the Modern Pentathlon event, and the Games itself, and UIPM will campaign strongly for its inclusion. (Does this sound like a familiar refrain to you?)

Take Away:

  • The foundational body that presides over the sport sees any new appropriations as benefits to its own operations. It’s not an attempt to support or look after the new activity.

The International Olympic Committee

And just a little bit on the IOC being money hungry. And how their funding structure works:

The IOC gives money to their affiliated International Federations (IFs) as well as to National Olympic Committees (NOCs). Based on this annual report from GymSports New Zealand (soon to by Gymnastics New Zealand), that money is then distributed from the NOCs to the national sports federations. It doesn’t appear as if IF money goes to the national federations. See this handy breakdown of the US structure.


If we take the above action sports precedents into consideration, working with or supporting FIG in any way would likely result in letting parkour be governed by an international federation that:

  1. Doesn’t care about the cultural heritage of the sport and is using parkour to bolster its own position.
  2. Uses it for personal financial, political and advertising gain.
  3. Gets to, and often makes all of the decisions alone (even if the parkour community is able to be connected).
  4. Creates its own competition structures and rules and requires athletes to participate in its sanctioned events run by its national gymnastics federations.
  5. Supports its member federations to usurp control of the activity even if parkour specific organizations exist.
  6. Lets the national gymnastics federations decide where funding is allocated, potentially leaving parkour out to dry.
  7. Lets its national gymnastics federations decide the value of parkour athletes in regards to the Olympics, potentially excluding them from participation.
  8. Simply drops parkour from the Olympics if it doesn’t like it anymore.
  9. May have all been suggested by the IOC in the first place.


WHY!? If this is the experience of all action sports before us, why would anyone do anything but work with their own community?

  • Work towards establishing your own national organization.
  • Support the move towards establishing a democratic international parkour organization.
  • Sign the petition.

Follow Damien Puddle on Instagram and Twitter.

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