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While Some Sports Edge Toward Olympic Limelight, Others Struggle in Obscurity

5 Apr, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An International Sports Organization is Seen as Being, by Turns, Obstructionist and Uncaring to Governing Bodies Attempting to Gain Recognition

Even with cheerleading having gained provisional recognition by the IOC and pole dancing lobbying for the same thing, some sports are still struggling to step onto the international stage – any international stage. Cases in point: armwrestling, poker and rugby league, all of whom were recently turned down for membership in SportAccord, the umbrella organization for Olympic and non-Olympic sports.

The World Armwrestling Federation (WAF), which last year, had put in its application and along with poker and rugby league, had been viewed as a shoo-in, was taken aback by its rejection. The fallout turned political, with WAF claiming it had been stonewalled by SportAccord in its attempts to speak with someone who could clarify membership application details, stated an article in Inside The Games.

Mircea Simionescu-Simicel, WAF’s general secretary, told Inside The Games that his organization had been trying to speak to SportAccord’s membership committee since November 2016, without receiving any responses.

"We believe that rejection of the armwrestling application was due to the lack of communication from SportAccord management which since last General Assembly did not report any problems with the WAF application,” Simionescu-Simicel said. “In November 2016, WAF met the newly formed Membership Commission and acknowledged in big lines what are the problems. The commission promised to cooperate with WAF and other applicants in order to fulfill all the statutory criteria but unfortunately this hasn't happened. WAF had tried several times to communicate with the commission but did not receive any feedback on the application before February 28, 2017, one day before Council Meeting when it was too late to come in line with the requirements.”

SportAccord, which has another meeting scheduled for November, has not responded to the allegations.

But armwrestling was not the only sport turned down. The International Federation of Poker's (IFP) President Patrick Nally told reporters he was “disappointed” the governing body’s application to join SportAccord will not be considered. Nally, however, took a less confrontational approach and noted the organization looks forward to resubmitting its application in the future.

Over the last several years, IFP have worked to increase the visibility of the game and make it more tech-friendly. In early 2016, the governing body launched a strategic sports partnership between Alibaba Sports and Oceans Sports and Entertainment, designed at developing and marketing match poker. Match poker is a team-based, non-gambling, e-sport version of poker in which players play for points rather than cash. Hands are dealt by smartphones rather than with cards.

In addition, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) was turned down. RLIF chief executive David Collier stated he was frustrated that the RLIF's SportAccord membership was not approved, and claimed his organization had fulfilled all of the necessary criteria.

"RLIF is frustrated by the delay in our membership application but we continue to work with SportAccord to bring this process to a successful conclusion in November," said Collier.

Previously, World Rugby (already a member of SportAccord) had been accused of trying to block RLIF. (The two organizations have been competing in the same space for more than a century. Rugby league originated in England in 1895 following a split from the Rugby Football Union over the issue of payments to players.)

Further complicating the matter of World Rugby and RLIF is the fact that during the time RLIF was applying for SportAccord membership, SportAccord sent a letter to World Rugby, asking for clarification on at least one matter. However, Collier notes, RLIF and World Rugby have discussed this communication and come to a satisfactory conclusion.

“RLIF has received a written assurance from World Rugby that the concern which World Rugby has raised is with SportAccord and not with the RLIF application and therefore there is no reason for the RLIF application not to be approved at the November meeting,” he added.

World Rugby, by the way, is the international governing body to which USA Rugby belongs, and the organization that governs Olympic competition.

Other organizations whose applications had been turned down in the last two years were parkour (jointly put forth by the International Parkour Federation and Mouvement International du Parkour, Freerunning et l’Art Du Déplacement), International eSports Federation, Kabaddi, the International Roll Ball Federation, World Dodgeball Association, International Practical Shooting Confederation, International Woodball Federation, International Kurash Federation and International Pole Sports Federation.

As the three sports spar with the application process, however, it has become clear that SportAccord has its own issues. The organization announced a two-part proposal to change its name to Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), and change the structure of its presidency to a two-year term. However, some pundits have been quick to point out these are far from the only changes needed.

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