‘#weareNOTgymnastics’: parkour fights to retain its soul

first_imgShare on WhatsApp Share on LinkedIn Sportblog Share via Email Which is why the federations behind traditional Olympic sports, which receive so much funding from the IOC, have been scrambling to come up with new, youthful formats such as three-on-three basketball. As for the FIG, in 2016 it elected a new president, Morinari Watanabe, who has been described by his colleagues as a “businessman”. In 2017 Watanabe revealed his grand plan for the future of gymnastics. “The FIG is excited to develop a new discipline,” went the press release, “in order to broaden even further the appeal of our sport.” That “new discipline” was parkour.The FIG even recruited Belle himself on to its new “parkour commission”. Then Belle quit soon after, ostensibly because of “other professional commitments”. Four of the other commission members followed him last month, only they published an open letter explaining they were doing it because the FIG was moving too “fast and with very little or no transparency” and “no involvement of the international parkour community”. The FIG has recruited replacements and is pressing ahead. It has been running a new Parkour World Cup, where competitors are paid to take part, and hopes to get the event into the Paris Games in 2024.It is obvious why the FIG would want to take over parkour, with its huge, hip online presence. What is less clear is why parkour would want to be run by the FIG, a body that has no historical association with the sport and is still battling with the fallout of the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal. Especially when there are plenty of people in parkour who think the very idea of competing for podium places goes against the spirit of it all. The FIG says it “deeply respects the development of parkour as a non-competitive training methodology”. It is just that it would like to package, brand and sell its own competitive version of it. Sport The Dame du Lac lives an hour’s ride from Paris, in the suburb of Lisses. She is a 20m tall triangular wall, rutted and pocked with concrete knobs, ledges and gullies. In the late 1980s David Belle and his friends would come here to swing, leap and bound from one of her nooks to the next until they made it all the way to the platform at the top. They were not only playing but training. There was a discipline to it. Because it all grew out of the obstacle course techniques David was taught by his father, Raymond, who had been a soldier and a fireman. They called it “parcours” or “route”. Topics Thirty years later the Dame du Lac has become a place of pilgrimage for parkour fans but it is still not clear what Belle and his friends invented there, whether it is a sport, practice or performance. Even they do not seem to agree on exactly what it was, or should be. Belle’s version of it, parkour, is all about efficiency of movement. One of his friends, Sébastien Foucan, preferred pulling tricks and stunts, and his form has become known as freerunning. But whatever and whichever, there was an audience for it. Today, Sport England says there are 100,000 people participating in parkour in the UK.Which means that in the past 20 years or so parkour participation figures have grown, by Sport England’s estimate, to be four times as large as triathlon, three times as large as judo and around a third as large as gymnastics. Keep that last stat in mind as we cut away to Baku, and the 82nd congress of the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), where the members have just voted to revise the rules in a way that allows them to officially recognise parkour as a gymnastic discipline. Which is a bureaucratic euphemism. Really, it is trying to decide whether to take over control of the sport.Over at the Motus Projects, which makes and sells parkour streetware, they are flogging “Fuck the FIG” T-shirts. Online the parkour community has rallied around the hashtag #weareNOTgymnastics, while the national parkour federations of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, among others, have published open letters complaining about what the FIG is doing. Eugene Minogue, the chief executive of Parkour UK and the nascent international federation Parkour Earth, describes it as “the encroachment, misappropriation and the attempt to usurp parkour as a ‘discipline’ of gymnastics under the auspices of the FIG”.It certainly represents a change of heart on the part of the gymnastics federations. Minogue has been around parkour long enough to remember when the gymnastics community was actively disassociating itself from parkour because of concerns it was too dangerous and difficult to insure. That attitude started to change in 2014, when the IOC president, Thomas Bach, launched what he called Agenda 2020, his plan for how to make the Olympic Games more sustainable. A key part of Bach’s plan is developing “urban” and “lifestyle” sports designed to appeal to a younger audience. Ten years ago Minogue made a documentary, Jump Westminster. It is a fine little film and is entirely unlike the clips and snippets of parkour you see in adverts and movies, because it is all about kids who are learning to do it for the first time. It presents parkour as a cheap, fun, free alternative to conventional sport, one that teaches self-confidence and self-discipline to children who shy away from team competitions. Whatever else it is, parkour is a sport with a soul. That soul has been nurtured by a community, and now that community has an opportunity. It should be theirs to take, not the FIG’s. Since you’re here… Share on Pinterest Penalty flops and flips, Grand Final memories and Parkour 3.0 Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks.center_img Support The Guardian It is obvious why the FIG would want to take over parkour, with its huge, hip online presence. What is less clear is why parkour would want to be run by the FIG Free running and parkour comment Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Reuse this content Olympic Games Gymnastics Share on Messenger … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. Whether we are up close or further away, the Guardian brings our readers a global perspective on the most critical issues of our lifetimes – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. We believe complex stories need context in order for us to truly understand them. 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