It’s certainly not on the medal stand, but cheerleading just took one giant step closer to the Olympics, having been provisionally recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
And that has resulted in a cheer heard around the world. The sport will now be eligible for IOC development funding and will become a member of the Association of IOC Recognized International Federations (ARISF).
Since martial art muay thai was recognized, there is currently a total of 37 full or provisional ARISF members.
The ICU will receive $25,000 in IOC development funding, and could receive additional amounts to spend on anti-doping and other projects.
Within the U.S., there was great, well, cheering, at the announcement.
“We are very excited about this development,” Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), told SDM. “It's a great recognition for cheerleading and cheerleaders here where it began and around the world where it's been adopted.”
Within the United States, according to Lord, the conduit to the IOC will be USA Cheer. “AACCA is a member organization of USA Cheer, which is the U.S. governing body for all disciplines of cheer under the ICU. We will continue to work with USA Cheer as the safety experts for cheerleading and with the ICU as we have done since its inception.”
Within the United States, cheerleading is one of the most popular sports for girls, ranking in the top 10 of the annual participation survey performed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Scholarships for cheer are available at the collegiate level as well. Planners of cheer events can expect their already popular sport to explode in both participation and awareness as a result of the IOC announcment. And since programs are available scholastically (as part of a school or college) as well as in all-star settings (known as cheer gyms, which are programs not connected to another institution), there is plenty of room for growth. In addition, because of the presence of unified and inclusive programs for girls with developmental disabilities (one example is The Sparkle Effect), it may be that one day, cheer programs will appear in events such as the Special Olympics. In other words, the potential for exponential growth is out there and planners need to be ready.
A sport’s provisional membership lasts for up to three years, and it can only be made full members by an IOC Session - so at Lima in September 2017 would be the earliest it could apply. But even with acceptance, don’t expect to see cheerleading automatically appear on the Olympic program. For example, the International Ski Mountaineering Federation was fully recognized during this year's IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro, while the World Flying Disc Federation was added last year in Kuala Lumpur. Neither sport appears in the Olympics.
Cheer competitions at the international level are nothing new; The 2017 Junior World Cheerleading Championships and World Cheerleading Championships are scheduled to be held in April 2017 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. And in 2015, it was announced that a unique World Cheerleading Game Day Championship would be contested at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championships in Stockholm.
Cheer is an interactive sport, playing to the crowd and, when it is part of a sports program at a school, to athletes. ICU President Jeff Webb stated, "Cheerleading is certainly a unique sport. While it is very competitive from the Competition aspect, Cheerleading also has the ability to enhance the game experience for other sporting events.”
Cheer as a sport began in the U.S., and in fact, the ICU is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.
As the sport of cheer has evolved, another discipline, STUNT, has grown at the collegiate level. STUNT involves head-to-head competitions between two teams in a four-quarter match. In the first quarter, the teams perform identical partner stunts. In the second quarter, they perform pyramids and tosses. In the third quarter, they do tumbling and jumps, and then in the fourth quarter, all those routines are performed back to back in what is called the Team Performance segment. Within each quarter, the teams will perform four 30-second routines based on that quarter’s focus. Scores are given immediately, and the team that is leading gets to call the next routine, adding an element of strategy that is not present in a typical cheer competition.
Lord said that although STUNT continues to grow, it is not expected to be a factor in the potential Olympic version of the sport.
“STUNT is a separate issue,” Lord noted. “It is still growing, and we expect that it will continue to, as it is the version of cheer that actually qualifies for Title IX requirements.”