Liam Morgan

Governing bodies in the Olympic Movement have made a habit of going back on their word by saying one thing and doing the other.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) including parkour as an official new discipline fits quite aptly into that bracket.

Some years ago, the FIG was keen to distance itself from parkour, citing concerns over safety and insurance as its main reasons. Many within the organisation wanted nothing to do with it.

That all changed when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously adopted the Agenda 2020 reform package in late 2014.

While containing its fair share of platitudes, the document paved the way for more youth-orientated sports to feature at the Olympic Games and effectively led to the likes of 3x3 basketball, sport climbing and skateboarding being added to the Tokyo 2020 programme.

It implicitly asked International Federations to devise "innovative" events to appeal to the youngsters, the dream target market of the IOC and pretty much everyone in the sporting spectrum these days.

For parkour, this has come at a cost. Desperate to revive a schedule of events which have been dwindling in popularity and traction, FIG has embarked on a concerted campaign to seize control of the street-style discipline with a view to it becoming an Olympic event at some point in the future.

The vote at last week’s Congress in Baku was the culmination of the first part of the process. Olympic inclusion is the next logical step for FIG, which would not have incorporated the discipline into its statutes if that was not the end goal.

The FIG Congress approved the inclusion of parkour as an official discipline ©FIG
The FIG Congress approved the inclusion of parkour as an official discipline ©FIG

The moves made by FIG have been far from universally popular. Members of the parkour community have consistently reacted with justifiable anger and indignation and a new organisation, Parkour Earth, was established in response.

While the organisation has been subjected to friendly-fire following a row with others who claim to lead the discipline, Parkour Earth has largely led the revolt against the worldwide governing body and what it believes is an "illegal" venture into the sport by the FIG.

It is clear why FIG has been so eager to make the foray into parkour. Not only does it appease the IOC, but it also opens previously untapped financial avenues and doors to the youth.

"We all know this is being driven by nothing-but income," Parkour Earth chief executive Eugene Minogue tells insidethegames. "We have a product which appeals to the IOC so it appeals to FIG, who need it to remain relevant,"

But it is the way in which FIG has gone about it which rankles with Parkour Earth and others who have rallied against world gymnastics’ governing body in the past 18 months or so.

Throughout the campaign, FIG has shown a blatant disregard, and ultimately disrespect, towards those who know far more about the sport than they do. They have ignored the voice of the detractors while wielding its considerable power to get their ownership of parkour over the line.

Those critics have accused FIG of "encroachment and misappropriation" of the sport, an allegation which has weight when you consider the evidence at hand.

From its initial reticence to investigate how it can incorporate parkour, FIG now claims to be the guardian of a discipline which it has next to no expertise in.

FIG has also carried out its venture with little transparency and has refused to engage with the parkour community, save for the odd face-to-face meeting with officials connected to the discipline.

The row over the ownership of parkour has intensified in recent months ©Getty Images
The row over the ownership of parkour has intensified in recent months ©Getty Images

FIG did set up a Parkour Commission to oversee its efforts only for the group to be plunged into disarray in October when half of its members quit in protest at how the implementation of the sport was being handled by the governing body.

That did not slow FIG’s advances into the parkour territory, however, as the vote to include the discipline in its statutes passed anyway, marking a further blow to those who have fought to stave off the International Federation’s relentless pursuit of control.

"The FIG’s vote lacks credibility, legitimacy and authenticity," Minogue says.

"It has no validity whatsoever and we have proved they have acted illegally and breached various charters, including that of the IOC."

Others, such as Parkour New Zealand, hit out at the "absurd" process which saw FIG ask national gymnastics federation members for their consent "without asking national parkour federations for theirs".

What is perhaps more absurd is the fact that FIG has continued its parkour campaign when it clearly has much more pertinent and important issues to deal with.

Ensuring there is no repeat of the the abhorrent sexual abuse scandal in the United States should have taken priority over parkour. FIG have been largely silent on the topic, despite the alleged implication of Executive Committee member Ron Galimore, who reportedly helped disgraced doctor Larry Nassar provide "false excuses" to explain his absence from sporting events when under investigation for child sex abuse.

FIG were among the organisations criticised for not doing enough when the scandal emerged and eventually established an Ethics Foundation at the Baku Congress, a much-needed step but one which appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

Another noteworthy aspect to the protracted row is the influence of Morinari Watanabe, elected to replace longstanding Italian doyen Bruno Grandi as FIG President in 2016.

From the moment he took office, Watanabe, described as an astute businessman by those closest to him, has spearheaded the takeover of parkour. The Japanese official has been the driving force behind the entire process, making it his mission to ensure FIG takes ownership of the discipline and that it becomes an Olympic sport under his watch.

In one of the first press releases sent after he officially began his role on January 1 last year, Watanabe set out to "develop a new discipline" - parkour. Since then, he is thought to have been pulling the strings behind the scenes, supposedly even against the wishes of other senior officials.

Watanabe achieved another of his aims in Buenos Aires in October when he was sworn in as a member of the IOC. It would not be too much of a stretch to link this with his insistence that FIG assumes control of a discipline favoured by the IOC.

"Watanabe has achieved what he wanted to do and by getting IOC membership, he now needs to deliver on the parkour programme," Minogue says.

When contacted by insidethegames, FIG refused to pass on a series of questions to its Parkour Commission, instead regurgitating an old statement sent in response to previous criticisms.

"Parkour is a sport that has been practiced under the aegis of our member federations since many years," the statement read.

"In 2017, we have started to discuss the organisation of World Cups and World Championships and the respective rules and regulations have been in effect since 1 January 2018.

"The recent Congress only ratified the decision taken by the Executive Committee in 2017.

"There are many so-called international federations and organisations, who claim to be legitimately representing the Parkour community. However, none of them is recognised by the Global Association of International Sports Federations or the IOC.

"We have invited all of these organisations to cooperate with us and we continue to have an open-door policy."

Morinari Watanabe, right, has been behind FIG's parkour campaign ©Getty Images
Morinari Watanabe, right, has been behind FIG's parkour campaign ©Getty Images

Despite the widespread criticism and amid pleas from the parkour community to do so, the IOC has declined to intervene in the row over the governance of the sport – silence which Minogue claims speaks volumes.

"The international sports community is idly standing by and their silence in all of this is deafening," he says.

"They talk about good governance but when push comes to shove they don’t follow their own principles."

Minogue also revealed Parkour Earth plan to write to the IOC asking them to intervene, while other options being considered include an appeal to the European Commission.

It appears, then, that the decision at the Baku Congress seems to be the beginning, rather than the end, of this whole saga.

"This is far from over," Minogue warned.