Gymnastics

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In Gymnastics and Freerunning Arena, Battle Over Parkour Rages On

27 Jul, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The more things change, the more…well, you know the rest. The debate between parkour (also known as freerunning, the urban discipline closest to obstacle racing) and the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG, which wanted to make it a gymnastics discipline) is still going on and it’s as hot as ever. In fact, there’s a social media campaign on parkour’s part, using the hashtags #WeAreNOTGymnastics and #WeAreParkour.

And while lockdown hasn’t allowed for too much more than a salvo of words, there is something new. FIG’s vice president has leaped into the fray – on parkour’s side. And she has some strong words for FIG, whom she accuses of trying to attract new viewers at the cost of the very identity of gymnastics.

It was FIG President Morinari Watanabe who initially proposed that parkour be incorporated as a discipline of gymnastics. Watanabe added: "From the moment I first saw parkour in Yokahama in 2011, I was convinced of its potential.”

Parkour’s officials were vehemently opposed to FIG’s move, calling it “encroachment and misappropriation.”

Things went downhill from there.

Parkour established its own international governing body, Parkour Earth, and FIG voted to officially include parkour as a new gymnastics discipline at its Congress in December 2018.An inaugural Parkour World Championships was due to be held by the FIG earlier this year, following a World Cup series, but was cancelled, along with other events, by the pandemic. The FIG has proposed parkour as an additional discipline for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games; it has already been confirmed as a gymnastics discipline for the World Games in 2022.

Kim, who, prior to her position in FIG, was an Olympic gymnast, has been vocal in her disapproval.

"An issue that I’m not a fan of is one of the work methods of our President: to bring street sports, almost like track and field, to our federation - like parkour," she told Russian website sports.ru. "In my opinion, it’s more of an extreme sport. The president’s goal is to make our federation the biggest one in the world, to get ahead of track and field and football while attracting young people. It’s nice when we try attracting young people, but gymnastics shouldn’t lose its face and identity.”

According to Inside The Games, Kim also offered a critical assessment of the governing body’s current direction, suggesting the FIG could benefit from improved governance and transparency, and noting problems at its highest level.

"When I was the President of the Technical Committee, the work took 24 hours a day," Kim was quoted as saying. "I thought that the position of vice-president would be approximately the same: I’ll get a certain area of work with reporting and responsibilities. But under the new President we are responsible for everything and for nothing, and the President relies more on the office apparatus than on the people whom the national federations elected at the Congress."

Side note: Oh, ouch.

Historically, obstacle courses are not an entirely new phenomenon. Military Gymnastics training in countries like France, Germany and Sweden during the 19th century included techniques for overcoming obstacles – and Parkour has long been considered an inspiration for the obstacle course competitions of today.

SDM will continue to follow this issue.

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