Because international sports wouldn’t be normal if it weren’t for politics and controversy. And gymnastics? These days, people wouldn’t recognize it these days if it didn’t have a scandal attached.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) Congress has voted to officially include parkour events in the sport of gymnastics – but in doing so, has driven what might be an irreparable rift between itself and the bodies that have overseen the sport at the world level.
According to an article published in Inside The Games, the vote came despite a concerted campaign from parkour communities around the world to persuade participating National Gymnastics Federations to vote against the inclusion.
As far back as mid-2017, there has been pushback against incorporating the sport of parkour in gymnastics. The Australian Parkour Association, for example, termed the new discipline "encroachment and misappropriation." And the New Zealand Parkour Association seconds that. Parkour UK stood equally in opposition.
The gymnastics organization wanted to structure the sport to include two events:
The "Obstacle Course Sprint, " an against-the-clock format
The Obstacle Course Freestyle," based on performances that will be judged
The courses for these competitions, while mainly artificial, are based on real-world shapes found in urban and natural environments. The use of parkour in a timed manner and with a performance-judged aspect (it has previously not been a competitive sport at all) is an enormous point of contention in the parkour community.
The new discipline will be the FIG's eighth, alongside Gymnastics for All, Men's and Women's Artistic Gymnastics, Rhythmic, Trampoline, Acrobatic and Aerobic.
In an open letter, Parkour Earth lambasted FIG’s “illegitimate and unilateral encroachment, misappropriation and attempt to usurp Parkour.” It further noted, “It is deeply concerning, as well as a fundamental and willful dereliction of constitutionality and democratic process that the proposed action to consider and formally vote on the encroachment, misappropriation of, and the attempt to usurp Parkour as a ‘discipline of Gymnastics’ under the auspices for the FIG, will not be put to recognized National Parkour Federations, such as our member federations and/or the wider International Parkour community, but, instead this vote will put to you, as FIG’s National Gymnastics Federations. This derogation from democracy, let alone common courtesy and despite the very significant, legitimate and substantiated concerns of Parkour Earth and by legitimate extension the wider international Parkour/Freerunning/Art Du Déplacement community.”
Undeterred, FIG is moving forward, noting, “It was in spring 2017 that this innovative, urban sport was brought under the aegis of the FIG, which organized two World Cups as test events in the same year in Montpellier, France and Chengdu, China, and the first Parkour World Cup Series earlier this year in Hiroshima, Japan and Montpellier.”
Both of these cities will hold World Cup events again next year. In addition, another World Cup competition will be held in Chengdu. The first ever Parkour World Championships are scheduled to take place between May and July 2020.
Stateside, it may take some time to see any changes in the form of competitive events. USA Gymnastics told SDM that because FIG’s decision was announced so recently, it has not had the opportunity to address the ramification of these developments. (And with the breaking news that the organization has declared bankruptcy in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal and its own fight to preserve its certification as the national governing body of the sport, it’s not likely to be top-of-mind for officials).