Parkour organizers are opposing the sport’s addition to the 2024 Olympics over a sport governance dispute – with some intriguing parallels to swimming.
Parkour Earth is a group that organizes the sport of parkour, or free-running, on an international level. The group’s site says it was established by an agreement of six national parkour federations in the summer of 2017. Parkour Earth describes itself as “the International Federation for Parkour/Freerunning.”
But Parkour Earth has been publicly critical of what it calls a “hostile takeover” of parkour by the international governing body for gymnastics: FIG. This AP story from 2018 details the conflict, in which FIG recognized parkour as a new discipline within gymnastics and scheduled a parkour world championship event. FIG has now begun lobbying the International Olympic Committee to get parkour added as an Olympic sport for the 2024 Olympics.
But parkour practitioners have complained about the gymnastics federation’s maneuvers, arguing that the gymnastics body was trying to co-opt the sport of parkour to make money off of a younger fan base.
“They are completely whitewashing our sport, its integrity, its history, its lineage, its authenticity,” said Parkour Earth head Eugene Minogue in that 2018 story. “They want to codify it, they want to monetize it. It’s about money, about influence, about power, about control. It’s about having a seat at the table.”
The AP reports this week that Parkour Earth has urged the International Olympic Committee to reject parkour’s addition to the Olympics, criticizing “FIG’s encroachment and misappropriation of our sport.”
Why am I reading about a parkour dispute on a swimming news website, one might wonder? Aside from the Olympic connection (the IOC is finalizing its program for the 2024 Olympics this week, and additions of new sports or new events within a sport are all somewhat interdependent), the parkour debate comes as swimming explores its own debate about who owns a sport on the international stage.
FINA has governed swimming on an international level since 1908. But criticism and corruption allegations leveled at that organization have come to a head recently with the introduction of the International Swimming League, which runs its meets outside of the FINA umbrella.
Established international federations like FINA or FIG (established in 1881) have accumulated enough size and power to make it difficult for smaller, less-established governing bodies like Parkour Earth to operate. Early in the International Swimming League’s formation, FINA leaned on its authority over Olympic swimming to threaten two-year bans on athletes who competed in meets not approved by FINA – among them, the Energy for Swim 2018 meet put together by the same organizers who were working to launch the ISL.
Ultimately, organizers canceled that Energy for Swim event rather than forcing athletes to decide whether to withdraw or risk an Olympic ban. But the ISL did launch the following year and just wrapped up its second competitive season.