The FIG Saga: Leadership Character

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is: What kind of leadership do I want for the parkour community? If FIG is staking a claim, I need to assess their character to see if they possess the character and leadership qualities that I admire.

Below I consider three different qualities: Diligence, integrity, and intention.

These are aspects of the situation that I believe get glossed over with the sheer weight of events that have taken place. To some people, these things may seem subtle or negligible, but they’re actually hugely important to understand and consider.

Diligence: FIG and The Mouvement

[By diligence I’m referring primarily to ‘due diligence’, as in the careful and necessary investigative work in order to make an informed decision]

In 2014, founders, David Belle, Williams Belle, Chau Belle, Malik Diouf, Sébastien Foucan and Charles Perrière (with support from administrators Mark Cooper and Florian Busi) formed the Mouvement International du Parkour, Freerunning et l’Art Du Déplacement with the intention of being the international federation for parkour1. Many people around the world were excited about the potential this could have, especially given the apparent collaboration and unity between the founders involved. Fast forward a few years and the Mouvement hasn’t gained much traction, Sebastian Foucan is no longer involved, and publically they appear to have done little besides presenting parkour at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 2016 as part of its attached sports and culture festival.

Despite having done very little, when FIG announced that “following a presentation and research into parcours d’obstacles (obstacle course competitions) and parkour, “[they are] excited to develop a new discipline…“., we learn that this presentation was given by Mark Cooper, one of the aforementioned administrators of the Mouvement.

We know that FIG announced the establishment of a parkour World Cup by incorporating parkour into the FISE games, and also that they were collaborating with the Mouvement as part of this process. FIG also explained that they were being supported by the Mouvement throughout “the inclusion process of the new discipline”. Additionally, the Road Map for Parkour, a document leaked to the community describing this inclusion process, explains plans that include the dissolving of the Mouvement and merger with FIG, replicating a similar model that has occurred with FIRS and skateboarding to form World Skate (though FIG would never rebrand of course).

These linkages between FIG and the Mouvement were deliberate publicity stunts to present their actions as supported by the “international federation for parkour” and the “founders”. They need this kind of support in order to make a claim on parkour because otherwise, they have no direct access or legitimacy to it.

However, to my knowledge, no national federation ever formally joined the Mouvement (New Zealand began but did not complete the process) let alone proposed to the board that they should make any contact with FIG. Thus, the Mouvement was never an international federation, let alone the international federation for parkour. Additionally, as the open letters/statements from Malik Diouf, Chau Belle, and Yann Hnautra,  (founders and Mouvement board member) explain, they were never consulted, though Mark Cooper disputes this. Ultimately, this means that Mark Cooper could never have had the right to represent the Mouvement in this capacity, as it never had any national member federations to represent and no mandate from their membership or board to propose parkour to FIG2 let alone merge with them.

This is massive! Good governance in sport, particularly in Europe, is a major focal point in current affairs, yet FIG has not done their due diligence in researching the parkour community. Not in the slightest! Despite the Mouvement’s illegitimacy3 FIG still used the Mouvement as the bridge to access parkour and claim legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Naturally, therefore, Parkour Earth (and Parkour UK before it), accused FIG of unilaterally attempting to wrestle control of parkour. FIGs rebuttal was:

“Whilst FIG is aware that the inclusion process of this discipline does not meet with unanimity among the community of practitioners… FIG would like to specify that its approach has never been to unilaterally appropriate a discipline.

FIG wants to respond to the aspirations of those, starting with the founders of Parkour, who consider that building bridges with a well-established Olympic Federation may lead to reaching new tiers for a development strategy while complying with the philosophy and culture of Parkour. There are several countries where the cooperation of Parkour and gymnastics is successful, with FIG Member Federations offering their various activities in this discipline. “

For FIG to be accurate in their claim that they are not unilaterally appropriating parkour, they would have to be able to demonstrate that an international parkour federation with sufficient national member federations had mandated their collaboration. Clearly, the Mouvement does not fit this category.

They also claim they have weight to do what they’re doing based on the fact that they have the support of founders David Belle4 and Charles Perriere. However, with public opposition from a majority of the other founders (see the open letters above, as well this additional statement by founder Laurent Piemontesi), the weight of opposition is considerable and thus this stance is equally ridiculous as two founders mean nothing when there are five that are against.

Finally, stating that three of their member federations have already incorporated parkour (Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium) as further proof of their rights to claim it is not at all sufficient. They cannot demonstrate that their national member federations have asked them to do this, as their meeting minutes show this was an Executive (top-down) decision.

Summary:

In order to find ways to legitimise their actions, FIG has tried to claim three things. 1 – The support of the Mouvement as an international federation for parkour. 2 – The support of parkour’s founders. 3 – National gymnastics federations already working with/governing parkour. However, with no member federations and no mandate from its board, the Mouvement was never an international federation for parkour in a position to give parkour to FIG. There are more founders who oppose FIG than support them, so this is clearly a very unbalanced point. And three national gymnastics federations involved with parkour is hardly sufficient to suggest that this is the desire of the community when there are significantly more national parkour federations who oppose being under gymnastic governance.

Takeaway:

If FIG is unilaterally appropriating parkour then they lack the diligence to find legitimate ways to drive revenue and passion for gymnastics.

If FIG isn’t unilaterally appropriating parkour (somehow?), then the holes I’ve poked in their claims demonstrate their lake of diligence in researching and understanding both the parkour community and logic itself.

Notes

1. Some more details about the Mouvement can be found in Craig Constantine’s ‘2017 Report on the State of International Parkour Organization

2. The argument that David can do what he likes because parkour is his, is ridiculous. It could only make sense if there was no community and it was simply an idea he wanted to propose to FIG. Rather, parkour has grown beyond him and without him and therefore he has no right to make decisions that will impact the global discipline in such a manner as this.

3. This is not a dig at the work of the founders or the administrators in the groundwork they put into the Mouvement – this is just the reality of the situation.

4. Some will say that David can do what he likes because parkour is his and so FIG do have a legitimate claim,  but my response is that big P parkour, a.k.a ParkourTM might be David’s, but that’s not what FIG is claiming. Neither are FIG attempting to differentiate between David’s ParkourTM  and the little p parkour that the global community experiences, and that is because they’re after the practicing community. David, like parkour, is a means to an end (see Intention below).

Integrity: We were lied to

[By integrity I’m referring to honesty and having consistency of character in private and public]

In the early days of this saga, FIG appeared to mask their intentions to pursue the incorporation of parkour into gymnastics by discussing instead, forms of parkour-inspired ‘obstacle course competitions’, in their public releases. However, it was later revealed through the leaking of the parkour Road Map that the intention was always to appropriate and develop parkour.

In the original press release, FIG announced that “following a presentation and research into parcours d’obstacles (obstacle course competitions) and parkour1, “[they are] excited to develop a new discipline based on both historical2 and contemporary sporting practices…”. This presentation was given by Mark Cooper of the Mouvement International du Parkour, Freerunning et l’Art Du Déplacement and in their official minutes explain “..the Executive Committee agreed the [sic] development of a related discipline.”

The presentation by Mark and the original press release from FIG would lead one to believe that two existing activities, parkour, and obstacle course competitions (although no reference was ever made to existing obstacle course racing disciplines such as OCR or Ninja Warrior), are being used as inspiration to develop a new gymnastics discipline.

Indeed, I received an email from Mark Cooper (he became the de facto mouthpiece of FIG to the community during much of 2017, though no longer appears to be as involved) on May 9th. We were in contact from when Parkour NZ had a previous interest in the Mouvement and he was encouraging me in this instance not write an open letter in support of Parkour UK and the French Parkour Federation in opposition to FIG.

“There will be no FIG comps called parkour, or a FIG discipline of the same name, for sure.” 

The FISE website explained that the “sprint and freestyle obstacle courses” are “two competitions inspired by parkour”. During this early phase, the US-based gym APEX Movement was working with FIG to develop the first FISE competition. No doubt APEX’s understanding of parkour as a non-competitive activity had a part to play in FIGs communications (as well as APEX’s vision of Obstacle Course Sprint). As we know, APEX announced the end to their collaboration with FIG on May 13th citing significant issues with FIG, including:

  • The approval of 2 seats for APEX on the steering committee was reduced to 1, and upcoming changes to regulations would likely result in 0.
  • Assurances to APEX of the terminology that was off limits (i.e. parkour) was to be clarified in a FIG press release, but this information was cut from the final copy with no explanations as to why.
  • Repeated requests for a draft contract to solidify terms in writing were met with delays and silence.

The FIG event at FISE in Montpellier, however, didn’t start until May 28th. So even with APEX no longer involved, FIG, together with FISE, communicated to the world that their obstacle course showcase was inspired by parkour. In essence, they were still claiming that they were going to be developing a separate gymnastics discipline that was NOT parkour and therefore not be trying to appropriate and benefit directly from the existing activity. Even the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) shared the news, discussing FIG “approving the creation of a new FIG discipline based on obstacle course competitions” and that the “new discipline… has not been officially named”.

Many in the community speculated it was Mark Cooper himself either directly writing, or closely advising, the drafting of the FIG releases. On Facebook Mark stated that “drafting has never been part of any contractual arrangement with FIG”, however he did not respond to a question from parkour ethnographer, author, and movement coach Julie Angel, who asked “Even though drafting wasn’t part of your contractual arrangements did you help write the FIG press releases for the event and the replies to Parkour UK?” So we’re not quite sure whether it was FIG or Mark who had the key role in trying to sell the idea that parkour was going to remain untouched. It’s very plain, however, that FIG has serious questions to answer for, given that their Bulletin, containing their Executive Committee and Annual General Assembly minutes, relays:

“The EC unanimously decided a Road Map / Decision-making process for the development of Parkour-inspired Obstacle Course Competitions as part of a new FIG discipline.”

It was the leaking of this Road Map that confirmed for the parkour community that there was no true intention for parkour to be used simply as inspiration to make something new. No, parkour was the target. All of FIGs subsequent actions confirm this without a shadow of a doubt and is reflected in the language they use today which openly claims parkour, as well as their creation of the FIG ‘Parkour Commission’ to develop parkour as a discipline of gymnastics, and their ‘parkour rules’.

Summary

FIG appeared to mask their misappropriation of the discipline by not publicly labeling their new pursuit, parkour, instead opting for ‘Obstacle Course Competitions’. Leaked documents, however, show that the intention was always to develop, and appropriate parkour. Therefore, we can only say that the parkour community was lied to, in private emails, on official press releases, in the FIGs official Bulletin, from multiple sources, and FIG perpetuated this lie.

Takeaway

FIG, the people who are trying to sell to us that their involvement is good, lied to us. They are liars. The people in our community who are telling us that we should work with FIG, are telling us that we should work with liars.

Notes

1. It quickly became clear (and it was clear to some from the beginning) via an email shared with the parkour community that obstacle course racing was not being looked at, and indeed it was only parkour that was ever being considered.

2. FIG claims historical rights to parkour. Refuted by Dr. Julie Angel, Parkour UK, and Parkour Earth.

Intention: What could it be?

[By intention, I’m talking about FIG’s aims with a focus on why i.e. their purpose for being involved]

Again, we start with the original announcement. FIG President Moronari Watanabe said, “The FIG is excited to develop a new discipline… in order to broaden even further the appeal of our sport.”

This in itself should be a huge red flag. The reason FIG is involved is not that we asked them to help us out (the Mouvement had no rights to propose parkour remember), it’s not a noble endeavour where we cried out for help and they came to our rescue, or they had the initiative to ask us if we wanted to collaborate and share our respective strengths. No, it’s because they want parkour to help them stay relevant and we got it from the horse’s mouth.

Why would gymnastics want that? That’s pretty simple too1.

We know that the IOC has been trying to bring younger audiences to the Olympics for decades with the inclusion of action sports (windsurfing, snowboarding in the past, and skateboarding, climbing, and surfing more recently)2.

The IOC wants to youthify/younginise (these are real words) the Olympics for two related reasons.

  1. The median age of Olympic viewers is old
  2. Newer generations are recreating in different ways and interested in different activities (New Zealand example, UK example)

It’s important for the IOC to increase viewership by attracting younger audiences because the biggest portion of their revenue comes from selling broadcast rights.

This is important for FIG because as an International Federation they receive funding from the IOC. $540 million USD was distributed to the Summer Olympic International Federations after Rio 2016 (see page 105).

So what is FIGs motivation for appropriating and developing parkour?

Summary

FIG receives revenue from the IOC. The biggest chunk of IOC revenue comes from broadcasting. Olympic viewership is losing out on younger audiences as (among other variables) they’re interested in different sports. The IOC is therefore interested in action sports in order to increase the number of younger viewers and ideally their broadcast revenue. FIG is therefore interested in the same goal and parkour is their ticket. In other words, FIG want parkour for the profits.

Takeaway

FIG does not have noble intentions. This is not the same as wanting to derail or kill parkour, but their motivation for being involved is staying relevant by making a profit. Many of us do or hope to make a profit from parkour, but our intention is rooted in a passion for parkour and a desire to see it shared – profit is the bonus. With FIG, this is flipped. When they see parkour they see dollar signs, and developing parkour is a means to that end.

Notes

1. There’s plenty of evidence showing that females are the largest demographic of gymnastic participants – 81.8% female in Australia, 2012, 85% female in America, 2009. And with parkour participation easily outnumbering gymnastics in some nations (96,700 for parkour vs. 65,100 for gymnastics in the UK) and anecdotally is male-dominated, FIG may have a specific focus on increasing their male participation statistics.

2. This article is already long enough, but I also want to point out that IOC commissioned research strongly encouraged them to work with action sport specific federations and NOT traditional sporting infrastructure. Their recent twitter post would suggest they’re ignoring this advice.

Final Summary and Takeaway

Diligence is important. Integrity is important. Intention is important. Strong leadership with good character is important.

Have FIG demonstrated valuable leadership characteristics to us?

  1. FIG’s claim to parkour is nil and based on the information we can draw two conclusions from this: a) FIG is attempting to unilaterally appropriate parkour or b) their leadership is incompetent and unable to carry out their due diligence c) or both.
  2. FIG lied to the parkour community about its intentions in order to make the appropriation of parkour easier.
  3. FIG want to stay relevant by capitalising on parkours popularity. They’re not here motivated to help, they’re here to take. Dollar dollar bill ya’ll.

Hands up if you want these kinds of people in charge of parkour on an international scale?

 

Thank you to Eliot Duffy from the Australian Parkour Association and Amos Rendao from APEX School of Movement for their help with the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *