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

9 Replies to “Why we need to fight FIG: Lessons from other action sports”

  1. You don’t need to know any detail to stop an abrupt intrusion.
    The burden of persuasion is on the intruding party.

  2. Great article Damien. I don’t practice Parkour but I work out of Rene’s gym in Vancouver. I’ve seen the evolution of the competitions hosted there over the last few year and it’s really inspiring. The level of professionalism that is being demonstrated a little bit more each year is impressive. I would hate to see this all this hard work “left aside” by the big bad guys in favor of what they think will fill their pockets instead.

    Keep pushing forward by producing high quality content like this blog.

  3. Damien… sorry, i don’t want to offend you but… i think you took a stand so strong against the FIG that you were not listening to what jason said..or may be you didn’t understood what he was trying say at the end of his video….. i am from North-Eastern part of India.. you can get some idea of this place in internet.. but you will not find anything about how we struggle to practice parkour and freerunning here… our country or to be specific our region is not as develop as yours… we dont have any parks or training facilities to train… now.. the talk of bringing parkour in the Olympics have come… we see lots of benefits in it for smaller communities like ours… and about the money distribution topic you talk .. why are you so much concern about where they spend the money .. its not likely that only kite-surfing or bmx have earn money for their federations… every sport have their contribution… they know were its needed most.. its not like if we earn the most so we should get to keep the most of it…. and the other thing.. there is no money in parkour in india… some people here want to make a living out of it like the athletes from Europe and US.. but there is no support of any kind… we love parkour as much as any other athlete from the west.. .. now if the FIG takes parkour under itself and recognize it ..there is a chance of better future here… because freerunning here is dying .. people start doing it ..they become very good at it ..they want to continue it as full time… but they see no future in it so they stop n find a different job to survive … most guys here are so broke that they can’t even buy a good pair of shoes for training… just imagine the financial support FIG could bring to them… this is a chance of survival for us… only FIG can help us.. not apex or any community give a damn about how we live.. they are earning money and they don’t want to share that… you put examples of cycling and surfing ..what does it has to do with FIG .. they are different bodies .. if you have solid evidence about FIG than you should share… you are simply making things complicate to understand…. i will just say that… don’t fight it.. its a good opportunity try to utilize it… help smaller communities to grow… rest jason has already explained… and if you want to know about freerunning in NORTH-EAST INDIA.. go to.. Assam parkour or smoke traceurs , team trace, AR freerunning, invaders ….in facebook and youtube… these are the active teams from different states which are keeping it alive.. try to learn as much as you can… and sorry if i came too hard …

    1. Hey, man
      I am not from India, but I am from northeast of Brazil, so I can understand a bit about what you are saying. There is no gym, no classes, no park. There is nothing. Only our bodies. Our community.

      sorry to say, don’t hope too much from fig. Let’s not be naive. It doesn’t work that way for us or our countries. There is no guarantee that maybe now they will help. They won’t. There are a lot of other Olympic sports in which athletes already struggle to survive, including medal athletes . Do you think someone will survive with parkour now just because of fig?

      How did pk free running started in the early years over there? If we depend on fig just to keep pk/free run going, I don’t feel that’s​ the way. The solution needs to come from us and try to develop it with the institutions from our countries. Be it study to coach, or to compete as athlete…try to organize.

      Hugs

    2. I didn’t see the inside of a gym for my first 5 years of training, and I still don’t frequent them. Most people of my generation are the same. Parkour does not require dedicated facilities, merely adapting to what is already around you. There is a reason why we used to call it “poor-kour”, because it doesn’t require money–only a body and an imagination.

      That said, this is still a young discipline, but we’ve grown so much. Eventually there will be support for you, but when the support comes, it should be from people who love and understand our values, not some outsider imperialists. By turning to FIG rather than to actual parkour organizations… because of money? This is a trap many of us fall into because of our social situation, and it almost always leads to disaster.
      I don’t know you, but I love and respect you; I just hope you can have a bit more patience and think it over more.
      Peace

    3. Jawja, you seem to be misinterpreting the point of Damien’s article, and your reply is, to put it bluntly, naively idealistic.

      What Damien is discussing is the potential outcomes of a large federation encroaching on a sport that has vague resemblance to what they normally deal with, using multiple real life case studies to illustrate these outcomes, thus why he discusses cycling vs BMX and yachting vs windsurfing. Using these case studies, we can infer the possible outcomes that can (and will) arise given another similar scenario, that is, FIG encroaching on the Parkour discipline. One thing you have to realize is that politics is a dirty, uncertain game, rife with deception and underhanded tactics to achieve any given motive, monetary, philosophical, etc. By observing these case studies, we can gain more clarification on the mechanics of a potentially dirty game.

      You mentioned being in North-East India and you implied that your community generally live in relative poverty compared to those in other communities. Thus, I can see and understand your viewpoint in thinking of the potential benefits that FIG might (key word, MIGHT) bring to your community. And, suffice to say, you response is incredibly predictable. And detrimental in the long run. What you’re doing right now is choosing the lesser of two evils. Being in a relatively poor community, your short term focus is on short term monetary gain in hopes of securing financial stability. Thus, you are more willing to cooperate with a larger organisation because you think that the (incredibly slim) possibility of improving your life is worth the ‘potential’ downsides of such cooperation.

      Your behavior and current way of thinking is the very reason why extremist terrorism is still such a problem, why some drug traffickers are actually unwilling to do their misdeeds and why thievery still occurs to this day. It is because, like you right now, they believe they have to do what they do. They believe that they have to do it because the ‘only’ other alternative scenario would be worse off for them. They cling onto that slim chance of a better tomorrow and believe that an unrealistically small chance is still and chance. Statistics don’t really work like that.

      Let me remind you, politics is a dirty game. If you limit yourself to only thinking of only one scenario, you will completely miss the obvious and, in the realm of politics and economics, that mindset will leave you open for the bigger cooperations to suck you dry. It’s detrimental for you in the long run.

      Bare in mind, this isn’t to put you down or to coach you in how your supposed to think or live your live. Simply food for thought.

  4. Damien, did you do research how to work towards establishing our own national organisation. We are teaching parkour / freerun since 2003 in our own gyms and now Gymnastics Federation from our country wants to cooperate with us….

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