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Two Pole Dance Groups Wrestling Over Control: Can the Sport Progress?

17 Apr, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Pole sports (that would be pole dancing, not pole vaulting) continues to work toward a goal of wider acceptance in the sports world. It does seem to be making progress – although not without something we’re starting to see more commonly these days: multiple (and conflicting) groups, each trying to become the international governing body.

Those two groups, the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) and the Pole Sports & Arts World Federation (POSA) responded when SDM reached out for comment on the philosophical differences between the two groups, and on their approach to the sport.

A representative from IPSF noted, “The IPSF has a strict set of rules and scoring that all of its federations, championships and athletes must adhere to. POSA’s federations and championships do not all have the same criteria and they invite athletes to take part in their worlds; athletes don’t have to qualify nationally. POSA is not recognized by any sporting governing bodies.”

POSA’s take on this is different: “Over the last year, the national federations have assisted in the growth of the sport by hosting open international divisions for athletes whose countries have not yet created a national federation. POSA is working towards development of competitions with several organizations on four continents. POSA continues its mission of inclusion and cooperation with all pole groups worldwide with the goal of advancing the sport to its proper place alongside other recognized sports and disciplines”

IPSF presents a timeline of its history, including its dealings with POSA, here. (POSA’s website does not include a list of similar information; however, the announcement of its rebranding can be found here.)

Of the two, the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) has taken more formal steps to make its presence known to other international governing bodiesIt has achieved Observer status with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which according to IPSF, “allows new, young international federations to take advantage of the GAISF network to grow and develop and has been designed as the first step in a clear path towards full GAISF membership.”

GAISF works with Observers to track their progress towards fulfilment of all criteria required for membership, such as increasing the number of members in various countries and receiving the required recognitions by National Olympic Committees or by national sports authorities. At the time of IPSF’s recognition, there were 100 pending requests for membership in GAISF. Another 15 were requesting Observer status and seven of those were accepted.

Interestingly enough, IPSF’s case for membership was supported by the International Gymnastics Federation – although IPSF was very clear that it would not become part of gymnastics, and that “pole will be its own standalone sport.”

POSA, in its quest for recognition, has followed a separate path, noting “We have a cooperation with (Confédération Sportive Internationale Travailliste et Amateur, or the International Workers and Amateurs in Sports Confederation) CSIT and we are starting to dialogue with (The Association for International Sport for all) TAFISA. We then started other possible roads, which for sporting reasons we cannot yet reveal.”

Pole continues to emphasize the artistic, fitness and athletic aspects of the sport while trying to leave behind the association with erotic dance. 

Both IPSF and POSA support anti-doping efforts; IPSF has been approved as a signatory with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), while POSA has announced a partnership with World Heavy Events Association (WHEA) concerning anti-doping work; as a result, athletes competing in international POSA events must become WHEA members with signed anti-doping contract latest at least three months prior to their competition.

POSA also announced that the World Association Air Power Athletics an International Federation of Pole & Aerial (WAAPA) had merged into the POSA World Federation, “becoming the largest single major aerial International federation.”

Pole just keeps growing. “The last time we spoke, we were on 30 federations and now we are just about to hit 40 federations by the summer, so we are growing at a rapid rate,” IPSF told SDM. “Not only that, we had 14 national championships last year and this year, we have 28 so again, a huge growth. The numbers of athletes have also grown so much that we have had to increase the number of points required to qualify for the world champions in order to reduce the numbers or we would have grown from 350 last year to over 600 this year.”

The IPSF (which presently has 37 member federations) needs to reach 40 federations to file an application for full membership with GAISF. (POSA has 24 endorsed national federations.) Ultimately, IPSF would ultimately like to receive IOC recognition; however, as a step toward that goal, it is pursuing full GAISF full membership.

POSA, by comparison, notes that it “does not want to tell "lies" to the athletes of the Pole, for this reason we will never say that we are ‘a step away from the Olympics.’” However, “POSA has also partnered with the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia (Pisa), Italy and is also working towards completion of a pole training room within the training center. POSA hosted a specialized training camps for athletes starting in Summer 2018 and there will be in 2019 too.”

And yes, Pole is also a sport for those with physical challenges: Both POSA and IPSF have hosted Para-Pole competitions. Participants may be classified as belonging to this sector of competition through impaired muscle power, limb deficiency (loss of limbs through amputation or birth defects) or visual impairment – all of which are conditions set forth by the International Paralympic Committee.

IPSF says the potential is there for growth among individuals who fit the criteria, and that enrollment in the Para-Pole category has borne this out. “In year one, we had one athlete. In year two, we had three, and in year four, we hope to have over 10.”

Stateside, the U.S. has two national pole governing bodies, the United States Pole Sports Federation (USPSF), and the American Pole League. Of these, the American Pole League is affiliated with IPSF, while USPSF is a member of POSA. (Point of interest: POSA had intended to host its 2017 Pole Sport World Championship in the U.S. but they were moved to Liechtenstein because of the Trump administration’s proposed travel bans.)

POSA has noted, “POSA is the leading international organization and is comprised of multiple national federations around the world, including but not limited to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, France, Korea, and Brazil.” However, it has also stated, “Pole Sport is not yet a recognized sport. As long as it has this connotation, no organization or all of them can claim to be the ‘Government Body.’”

And, to nobody’s great surprise, IPSF disagrees, stating, “Only one federation can govern a sport and that is the one that is recognized by GAISF and WADA. The IPSF is that federation.”

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