How It Started
On February 24th, 2017 Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) published a press release that announced their intent to “develop … [parkour] … in order to broaden even further the appeal of [gymnastics]”. This has caused a global controversy and significant kickback from the international parkour community who, largely, wish to govern themselves.
The Story So Far: Timeline
A lot has happened since FIG first announced its intent to pursue parkour as a new gymnastic discipline. One of the challenges with following the story is that the information has been spread out over various mediums, from blog posts, press releases, media articles, as well as videos and posts on social media.
I have curated a timeline* that hopefully shows all the key moments in the story so far, showing you what groups and people have been involved, who did what, and when they did it. There is A LOT of material in the timeline (get a load of May, May was crazy!) so if you want the summary instead that’s next.
*If there’s anything missing from the timeline or you see a mistake please let me know and I’ll fix it.
The Story So Far: Summary
FIG is attempting to make parkour one of their gymnastic disciplines in order to “broaden even further the appeal of [gymnastics]”, which, if you follow the logic[1,2], appears to be financially motivated – i.e. literally banking on parkour’s popularity. They have co-opted the support of two of parkour’s founders, David Belle and Charles Perriere in order to bolster their right to claim parkour. Five of the other founders oppose FIGs actions, and the remaining two founders either do not want to be involved (Sebastian Foucan) or haven’t been involved for some time (Guylain N’Guba Boyeke). To achieve their goals they are developing a parkour “World Cup” by running “competitions” (the athletes have all been paid to attend, so they’ve really been showcases so far) as part of the Festival International des Sports Extrêmes (FISE) competition tour. Their ultimate aim is to get parkour included in the 2024 Paris Olympics (their Tokyo 2020 bid was unsuccessful) and solidify their hold on parkour at the international level via IOC approval. This is a tactic that has been successfully employed by other International Sports Federations on other action sports (its happened to almost every action sport – snowboarding is a prime example and BMX is another – so the parkour community has a right to be angry). The parkour community at large has been opposing this move and is taking varying steps towards safeguarding parkour. This has occurred on:
a) an individual and collective level with petitions, boycotts, and other forms of social media activism;
b) on a national scale, with “cease and desist” type open letters to FIG from at least 20 national communities and National Parkour Federations (NPFs). Additionally, it has catalysed the formation of NPFs and them seeking national recognition by their government to solidify their position. Although occurring before the FIG announcement, Parkour UK is a good example; and
c) on the international scale, with the formation of Parkour Earth by 6 established NPFs, with the aim of being “the custodian of the philosophy, integrity, and sovereignty of the sport, art and/or discipline of Parkour/Freerunning/Art du Déplacement internationally for and on behalf of the international community” and to “serve as the sole governing and administering body for the Parkour/Freerunning/Art du Déplacement internationally to protect the rights, freedoms and promote the interests of traceurs/traceuses, freerunners, practitioners, members & the international community”.
Since launching, Parkour Earth has issued various open letters to FIG, asking them to… These letters culminated in a meeting between the two organisations to try and – from Parkour Earth’s point of view – “formalise the clarification, understanding, and recognition of the sovereignty of Parkour/Freerunning/Art Du Déplacement”. However, following the meeting, Parkour Earth announced that their “fundamental, legitimate and substantiated concerns” regarding FIGs actions remain. They then called for FIG to “enter into an agreed and binding mediation and/or arbitration agreement referring the dispute to the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland in order for the dispute… to be resolved definitively in accordance with the code of sports-related arbitration”. Thus far, FIG has not agreed to do so, putting their claims that the parkour community can somehow retain its autonomy, under intense scrutiny.
Concurrently, the International Parkour Federation, a US non-profit formed in 2014 have also been involved after having been advised of the potential of the FIG threat (according to their website). They have opposed FIGs actions whilst also challenging Parkour Earth’s claim at representing the international community. However, in early 2018, against the apparent catalyst for their creation, their public stance to date, and their criticism of Parkour Earth for meeting with FIG, the IPF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FIG, announcing that “the FIG and IPF would combine their respective strengths to closely collaborate in the development of a grass roots educational program, as well as a competitive event structure” whilst also claiming that “the FIG and IPF acknowledge that Parkour is a unique culture and commit to do [sic] their utmost to protect the culture, integrity and autonomy of the sport”. Unsurprisingly, this is confusing and hurtful to those opposing FIG, and perhaps even more so for those who have also been supporting IPF.
Meanwhile, Parkour Earth’s mission to retain the sovereignty of parkour and keep it under the management of the parkour community is ongoing.
The Story So Far: Epilogue
If you’re only just learning about the situation or if you haven’t seen it condensed like this before now, I hope that the timeline and summary have been helpful in explaining the situation. Even if it was helpful, you may still have many questions:
- Is it really that bad?
- How might this affect me?
- Who should I support?
- How can I help?
Legitimate questions that I will be sharing my answers to in a series of subsequent articles that I hope will give the community at large a better understanding of the situation and how we might respond.