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.
Although windsurfing in New Zealand is governed by Windsurfing New Zealand, Yachting 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.
An international federation can drop one of their sport classes from the Olympics if they want to (they tried to).
“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).”
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.
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).”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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?)
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 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:
Doesn’t care about the cultural heritage of the sport and is using parkour to bolster its own position.
Uses it for personal financial, political and advertising gain.
Gets to, and often makes all of the decisions alone (even if the parkour community is able to be connected).
Creates its own competition structures and rules and requires athletes to participate in its sanctioned events run by its national gymnastics federations.
Supports its member federations to usurp control of the activity even if parkour specific organizations exist.
Lets the national gymnastics federations decide where funding is allocated, potentially leaving parkour out to dry.
Lets its national gymnastics federations decide the value of parkour athletes in regards to the Olympics, potentially excluding them from participation.
Simply drops parkour from the Olympics if it doesn’t like it anymore.
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.