Why we need to fight FIG: Lessons from other action sports

UPDATE #1: I’ve included a video summary of my article for those who would prefer not to read for any reason. Please forgive some verbal hiccups. Follow up any of the details properly in the article below – there are links galore!

UPDATE #2: I’ve added SUP (Standup Paddleboarding) to the list (it’s not included in the video as I added it later). I had included in the initial list to research but I must have deleted it. Mikkel Rugaard reminded me of it in a post on Parkour Research.

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 realise 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 summarise some take-aways 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

Windsurfing is supported by the International Windsurfing Association, however, the IOC only recognise 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 onwards. Huge backlash, including this petition, eventually overturned the decision.

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.

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.

BMX

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 recognised 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

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 recognised FIS as the official governing body for snowboarding. The battle between the two organisations resulted in ISF going bankrupt and dissolving. From 2002 onwards, 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 slopestyle 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.

Skateboarding

Formed in 2004, the International Skate Federation (ISF) has become the de facto 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 recognising the Brazil Roller Sport and Hockey Confederation as the body responsible for organising the qualifying skateboarding events, even though they have zero experience and the Brazil Confederation of Skate have been organising 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

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 programme 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 programmes 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.

SUP (Standup Paddleboarding)

Originating from Hawaii, SUP has evolved from surfing. The International Surfing Association (ISA) have been running SUP competitions since 2012, but during a bid to bring SUP into the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the International Canoe Federation (ICF) submitted a competing claim and have been lobbying the IOC to give them the recognition.

It appears as if the IOC has left it up to ISA and ICF to decide amongst themselves, leaving Olympic SUP in limbo.

There is an epic write up by Christopher Parker at SUP Racer that outlines the competing claims and analyses the various arguments. It includes discussion around historical roots (undisputably comes from surfing), board design (comes from prone paddleboarding, i.e. surfing), and active development of the sport (ISA work outnumbers the ICF 10 to 1).

Seriously, read that article.

Take Away:

  • Established sporting federations have no problem in attempting to strong arm younger federations (or those that lack them), despite any clear historical roots and obvious track records that the younger federations have.

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.

Summary

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

a) doesn’t care about the cultural heritage of the sport, falsely (but happily) claiming similarities as historical background,
b) uses parkour to bolster its own popularity,
c) uses it for personal financial, political and advertising gain,
d) gets to, and often makes all of the decisions alone (even if the parkour community is able to be connected),
e) creates its own competition structures and rules and requires athletes to participate in its sanctioned events run by its national gymnastics federations,
f) supports its member federations to usurp control of the activity even if parkour specific organisations exist,
g) lets the national gymnastics federations decide where funding is allocated, potentially leaving parkour out to dry,
h) lets its national gymnastics federations decide the value of parkour athletes in regards to the Olympics, potentially excluding them from participation,
i) simply drops parkour from the Olympics if it doesn’t like it anymore,
j) may have all been suggested by the IOC in the first place.

Concluding Thoughts:

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 organisation.
  • Support the move towards establishing a democratic international parkour organisation.
  • Sign the MUV Mag petition.

#wearenotgymnastics #fightthefig #parkourisours

FIGHT THE FIG

On Competition & Collaboration: A Rebuttal

The biggest news in the parkour world at present are the steps being taken by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to appropriate parkour into their own gymnastic activity. Big news. It’s keeping me up at night.

My views on the situation are self-explanatory.

If you want more details on the situation:

This particular blog is focused on providing a counter argument to APEX’s statement ‘On Competition & Collaboration’. Although I assume the statement is written to provide clarity, it only brought more confusion for me.

IMPORTANT UPDATE

As of May 13th, 2017, APEX have cancelled their event in France and have ended their collaboration with FIG.

APEX said in their original statement:

  • “We will continue seeking the support of organisations and groups in which we can build win-win situations that will grow the sport in a healthy way.”
  • “We will strive to mitigate those downsides of competition and terminate business relationships if need be.”

True to their word, after deeming their relationship with FIG, FISE and The Mouvement to not be win-win or ultimately healthy for the parkour community (through the many discussions, posts, press releases and their own behind the scenes interaction with FIG) they have terminated their relationship and will host their event back on home soil in the U.S.A

This is an important step in the fight against FIG, but this post was focused on APEX’s specific statement RE competition. The outcomes of their event in France are no longer relevant, however, some of the confusion, contradiction and ambiguity of their original statement (in my opinion) still remains. As such, the original post resumes from here.

Original Blog Resumes

I’d like to preface my thoughts by first saying that I’ve never met Ryan, Amos or Brandon in person. I have spoken to Ryan and Amos online a few times and think they’ve all done some stellar work in the parkour community, particularly in the US. I’m a keen follower of their work via Parkour EDU, I have Ryan’s book Parkour Strength Training, I love the way Amos moves, and I think Brandon is a great commentator (more on that soon).

From here on I’m going to contrast some of APEX’s statements with either a counter-narrative, something from their own archives that causes me to question their motives or are at least very confusing, or gives me cause for concern.

1. APEX says “We do not recognize parkour as a competitive sport”. They have also claimed that they haven’t called their competitions parkour competitions, but simply competitions with various events (i.e. Time Trials, Skills Challenge, and Style Battle)

Amos to Julie Angel on the Parkour Research Facebook page: “APEX School of Movement has never been just a parkour organization. Although that’s our main focus, we house many movement arts under our roofs. We strive to be inclusive, and we’ve found that the crossover and mutual inspiration can be very powerful.

This isn’t opportunist semantics because this has actually been our stance since almost as far back as 2012. You’ll notice that we titled the event the “APEX Invitational” for a few years and then “APEX International” instead of something along the lines of “Parkour Championships.”

However, APEX and its affiliates have also said…

2. APEX says “parkour is not something you can win. There are no championships.”.

Parkour is traditionally non-competitive, and most training at present is undertaken that way. However,  in the same way that we’re not having the “are flips parkour?” debate anymore, things evolve. There have been international parkour competitions since 2009.

The North American Parkour Championships (NAPC) are run by Sport Parkour League (SPL) and Brandon Douglass has been an athlete and podium finisher as well as a commentator.

I’d also like to point out that next month APEX Denver is hosting SPL for an NAPC qualifying event next month.

3. APEX says “We do not feel that we have the authority to make claims on the “original philosophy” or “true essence” of parkour, and thus none of our arguments rely on such claims. However, the founders of our disciplines appear unanimous in that what they pioneered is non-competitive…. Now, this doesn’t mean there’s no room for evolution of definitions and ideas, but their vocal position on the matter should be respectfully taken into great consideration as a factor.”

Agreed. None of the founders personally want to compete in parkour competitions, but if we’re going to respectfully take their vocal positions, should we not consider these quotes?

It [competition] is not as bad as people say
You have the right to go there.
I have no right to tell you what to do.
If someone wants to do competition, he’s got the right to do competition.

– Sebastian Foucan (interview with Tim Shieff)

  • If people are happy because they do competitions, bravo.
    If it makes you happy, it’s good. I have no problem with that.
    I don’t want to ban competitions.
    If some people want competitions there will be some competitions Everybody is free within parkour to do what he or she wants.

– David Belle (interview with Tim Shieff)

4. APEX have said “No rules, no touchdowns, and no referees mean no elites.” and  “If you’re the best course runner in the world, it doesn’t then apply that you’ve reached the elite level of the international parkour community (spoiler alert, there isn’t one).”

APEX have also said…

And personally…

5. APEX are fully entitled to change their opinions. We all are. At the start of this post, I linked to my previous post about the evolution of my own opinions on competition. However, regardless of their position (i.e. calling them parkour competitions or not), many people watching and even those participating see these competitions as parkour competitions:

(The long term repercussions of this particular point have the potential to be extremely damaging for the parkour community, because if FIG  are the ones “buying” APEX’s OCS events, but everyone just thinks they’re parkour competitions, then FIG could eventually put marketing of “OCS” in the too hard basket and simply stick with “parkour”)

Conclusion

If you read APEX’s statement you’ll assume that they’re “opposed” to parkour competitions, but if you’ve read the rest of this post you’ll see that there are countless statements where they refer to their own and others events as parkour/freerunning competitions.

If they’re opposed to parkour competition, but are hosting a qualifying event for the North American Parkour Championships then there appear to be business motives.

If APEX continues to work towards their Obstacle Course Sprint – and whatever else comes – models in association with FIG, despite vocal outcry from many within the global parkour community, then there appear to be business motives.

I don’t know what’s going on inside their heads and what their true motives are, so don’t let my thoughts be taken as truth, but from where I’m sitting and the information that is available to me, I think they would have been more honest to remove the moral high ground/preservation of parkour pitch and instead said…

We like parkour, but we also like movement disciplines in general. Diversifying means we’ll get more people through our doors and because we’re entrepreneurs and we’re following the American Dream, this is a strategic business move.

Post Publication Editions

I’ve received further information after publishing this, but instead of editing anything original I’m leaving it all as is and I’m adding some clarifying points from some of the people I mention above.

From Rene Scavington:

Hey Damien just to give you a bit more info if you want for the article. We “SPL” skyped with Apex about hosting an event at their facility. The manager of Apex Denver (Vinny Fiaco) and I have been in talks for awhile about making it happen, but not knowing how the owners would feel about it. My understanding is that they are choosing to have a “no parkour competition” stance with their own brand, but will continue to support the parkour community that wants to have parkour competitions. They also aren’t getting any revenue from our event. They are donating the venue.

From Ryan Ford:

Hey Damien, I don’t have time to fully respond to this right now but here are a few other quick facts to consider. APEX HQ is our parent company that heads up the APEX INTL, APEX pro team, etc. Each school is independently owned and operated (licensees, not franchises) and therefore has a huge amount of room to run itself how it chooses. We support our licensees with lots of resources but they aren’t required to follow much in particular as long as they are running a safe and professional business (but most of them choose to use all the same systems, curriculum etc. anyway). APEX HQ solidified it’s stance on parkour competition only recently as it became a more complex and controversial subject in the international community. However, we also recognize the free will of our students, athletes, coaches, licensees, etc. to take part in parkour competitions if they want to. APEX HQ doesn’t currently call anything a parkour competition but if Rene wants to call it that, it’s his prerogative. APEX and Origins can agree to disagree on the naming and still have a mutual respect for each other.

From Amos Rendao:

This is one of the things that confuses me:

Ryan: APEX HQ solidified its stance on parkour competition only recently…
    vs
Amos: We have been titling these events “obstacle course competitions” not “parkour competitions” for years.

I also forgot to add this tidbit: