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Pole Sports: ‘We Will Not Become Part of Gymnastics’

4 Oct, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Sport Receives Observer Status from GAISF; Organizers Hail First Steps Toward International Acceptance

Pole sports (that would be pole dancing, not pole vaulting) continues its quest for international acceptance. And along the way, it has made one thing clear: it’s not gymnastics and it never will be.

In August, the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) saw its application for membership in the Global Association of international Sport Federations, or GAISF (formerly SportAccord) receive a boost when it was endorsed by the International Gymnastics Federation, FIG. In fact, IPSF signed a three-way agreement with GAISF and FIG, intended to help the IPSF to develop its sport with guidance from FIG.

But, IPSF is careful to note, this indicates support only; it is not a harbinger of pole sports coming in under the gymnastics umbrella.

“We will not become part of gymnastics,” noted IPSF in response to a question from Sports Destination Management. “The contract that has been agreed means that pole will be its own standalone sport.”

This stands in contrast to FIG’s adoption of parkour as a discipline; several parkour organizations have objected to this and the battle is expected to continue.

“We have never considered becoming part of FIG and have worked with them to make sure that we do not rival any of their disciplines in a similar way that cheerleading did some years ago,” adds the IPSF representative.

The road to acceptance has been a long one, and it’s still under construction. In 2015, IPSF applied for membership in what was then SportAccord, and was rejected But last month, Inside The Games reported, a rule change on the part of GAISF created “observer” status for federations that wished to join but did not fulfill all the criteria. This has allowed IPSF to move closer to its goal, and helps it overcome, in its own words, "the issue of the chicken and egg situation that occurs with the 40-federation requirement."

The requirement, notes IPSF, means that  in order for a sport to acquire GAISF membership, it must have 40 distinct national governing bodies among its membership. However, if a sport is not a part of GAISF (or the IOC, for that matter), its chance of having a high enough profile to encourage formation of those NGBs is basically nonexistent.

The Observer status, while not a membership, allows GAISF to recognize and support a sport for two years so that it can raise its profile in order to gain those necessary NGBs in its membership. After the two-year window has closed, GAISF can either offer membership, extend the window for another two years, or refuse to do so.

IPSF, now officially having received Observer status, remains optimistic, having made these strides:

"The IPSF application has been submitted to the membership committee to vote on whether we are accepted or not. We do meet their criteria for the status; it just depends on if we make the vote. To many, this might not seem a big step but for all new sports like ourselves, this is a huge change that GAISF has made and it means that our process may, if we are voted in, be sped up by five to 10 years. We are very excited to have come this far in just six years and grateful to GAISF for the change."

Another goal of the pole sports world is Olympic inclusion. Earlier this year, IPSF met with the IOC to discuss the possibility. And while pole has yet to be named a provisional sport the way cheerleading has, its governing body has noted it is hopeful for the future there as well.

Coming into the meeting with the IOC, pole sports actually had a point in their favor, being confirmed as a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Agency Code. This also helps its chances at the GAISF level.

IPSF noted the IOC was able to provide essential feedback on the application process, including a discussion of the fact IPSF has been “implementing correct policies and procedures in all areas of IPSF and Pole Sports governance. We were also given positive guidance to help us make important improvements in line with the IOC IF Recognition procedures, and we look forward to the many new challenges facing us in our bid to have pole recognized as an official international sport.”

Most recently, IPSF created an updated Code of Points landing page on its website with downloadable forms for athletes to use, including IPSF documents and policies. Additionally, it has announced intentions to build a video catalogue of pole sports moves, as submitted by members of the pole sports community. This, it notes, will assist in teaching proper technique and in raising the profile of the sport.

As it progresses toward widespread acceptance in the international sports community, IPSF has redefined its competitive divisions and in some cases, created new disciplines within its sport.  These include Pole Sport (the traditional version of the sport, which includes artistic elements but is based more heavily on athleticism and technical merit), as well as Artistic Pole, Ultra Pole, Urban Pole and Para Pole (the Paralympic version of the sport.)

IPSF noted the institution of Para Pole has been an exciting development since "We feel we have evolved enough to follow the Paralympic guidelines (we have not applied) and have chosen three abilities to cover: visual impairment, limb deficiency and muscle deficiency. We are currently adapting our code of points to accommodate each different ability and this will develop over the next few years with the view to adding more categories as we go. We hope to encourage people from all walks of life to take up and be inspired by our sport."

The International Pole Sports Federation's website showcases the various disciplines within pole sports, including the categories of Men, Women, Doubles, Masters (40+ and 50+) and Youth (10-14 and 15-17). Videos of competitive pole dancing can be found here.

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