Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

The t’s have been crossed, the I’s have been dotted, and breakdancing - or breaking, to give it its official Olympic monicker - will make its debut at the Paris 2024 Games.

Last month’s confirmation of this fact by the International Olympic Committee was hardly breaking news - there was never an expectation that it would gainsay the 2019 proposals by the Paris 2024 Organising Committee to include it in the programme.

Particularly as breaking had gained spectacular momentum with its dazzling impact in Buenos Aires at the 2018 edition of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) - a testbed for young and "cool" events put together by sports administrators no longer young and, in most cases, never themselves in the "cool" category.

When the IOC President Thomas Bach gave his fulsome verdict on breaking - "It is a very authentic expression, you feel with every performance that the personality of the athletes, it is not just delivering an exercise, it is expressing yourself” - it seemed clear that there was an Olympic future for an activity that many of its own exponents regard as more of an art than a sport.

However you prefer to categorise breaking - the description initially applied by US pioneers in the 1970s - its arrival within the Olympic orbit is entirely in keeping with the IOC’s Agenda 2020 policy pioneered by Bach in 2014.

The Agenda 2020 objective was to rejuvenate the Games with more youthful sports, especially those which do not require elaborate venues and can also provide a gender balance while working well on television.

Breaking ticks all the boxes, and it has now arrived. The reception has been mixed.

When the original Olympic trajectory of this athletic, energetic style of street dance emerged, a long-time Olympic reporter with the Daily Mail, Neil Wilson, tweeted with characteristic economy: "It’s culture, not sport."

It is incontrovertible that, with dance, there is no clear and obvious winner. It is not a matter of getting somewhere first or scoring the most goals. However, that also obtains with numerous historically established Olympic sports - such as gymnastics. 

And even - and here I picture Neil smiling in partial acknowledgement - ice dance, where the Daily Mail darlings Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean created historically resonant Olympic performances that were indeed celebrated in a book by said writer.

Question for critics of breaking being in the Olympics - if you object to
Question for critics of breaking being in the Olympics - if you object to "judged" sports, does that mean you also dismiss the legitimacy of British ice dance Olympic champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean? ©Getty Images

Surely we’re not going to diss Torvill and Dean? So what grounds are there to diss breaking?

Regardless of that argument, the reaction to breaking’s inclusion in the Olympics has ranged across the spectrum, causing understandable dismay within sports that have laboured long and hard to meet the requirements to join that club such as netball and squash, the latter having tried and failed on four occasions to get past the Lausanne bouncers.

When the official confirmation was announced on December 7 last year Australia’s three-times world champion squash player Michelle Martin told the Australian Associated Press: "You just look at the whole thing and you just go ‘where’s the Olympics going?’ I know some people say breakdancing’s a sport but ... I don’t understand.

"It’s sort of making a mockery of what the Olympics is. When you look at what it all used to stand for, the Olympics, it (squash) definitely fits in the category. What does the Olympics stand for these days, I don’t really know."

Breaking falls within the remit of the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF), which was established in 1957 and was officially recognised by the IOC in 1997. To date, it has 92 member national federations around the world, 66 of which are recognised by their National Olympic Committees.

A practitioner of this dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, or breaker. Although the term "breakdance" is frequently used to refer to the dance in popular culture and in the mainstream entertainment industry, "b-boying" and "breaking" are the original terms and are preferred by the majority of the pioneers and most notable practitioners.

Part of the reason for breaking’s inclusion in the Paris pantheon of Olympic sports is that it has been hugely popular in France since the early 1980s, following the creation of groups such as the Paris City Breakers - modelled on the pioneering New York City Breakers.

In 1984, France became the first country in the world to have a regularly and nationally broadcast television show about hip-hop - with a focus on hip-hop dance.

But while history may have helped, it is clear that the 2018 Buenos Aires YOG provided the Olympic tipping point for breaking thanks to the vibrant performances of the "b-boys" and "b-girls" taking part in the one-on-one freestyle duels known as "battles."

And that was a vindication of the WDSF policy regarding the event, which was, simply, to concentrate on making it as good and effective a showcase as possible.

World DanceSport Federation President Shawn Tay wants breaking to write its own continuing Olympic story through its Paris 2024 debut ©WDSF
World DanceSport Federation President Shawn Tay wants breaking to write its own continuing Olympic story through its Paris 2024 debut ©WDSF

As the WDSF now sets its sights beyond the putative spectacle of the postponed Tokyo Olympics to the Paris 2024 Games - while the stakes may now be higher - the policy remains the same.

Asked about his hopes of breaking maintaining its place in the Olympic programme for the Los Angeles Games of 2028, WDSF President Shawn Tay told insidethegames: "At this stage all of our focus is on organising the best possible breaking event at Paris 2024. Would we like to see it added to Los Angeles 2028 and beyond? Of course we would.

“But to make that a reality we have to put all our effort into making Paris 2024 a success, which is all that concerns us at present."

Assuming breaking can do for the Paris 2024 Olympics what it did for the 2018 Youth Olympics, the WDSF will be hoping that the organisers of the Los Angeles 2028 Games wait until December 2024 before finalising their line-up.

Acknowledging that the decision to include breaking in the Olympics was a controversial one in some quarters, and that some question whether it is a genuine sport, Tay commented: "It is important to point out that we faced the exact same questions ahead of breaking’s appearance at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires but once the battles got underway, there was no more concern about its sporting dimension or doubt about its appeal.

"There also appears to be some confusion among the uninitiated as to what breaking actually is. There are numerous forms of street dance, many of which are not competitive, and like any other sport breaking has practitioners who do it for fun as a hobby in addition to the elite-level athletes who do it professionally.

"Competitive breaking is both a sport and an art-form. A b-boy or b-girl needs to combine technique, variety, performance, musicality, creativity and personality into their set, which requires both physical strength as well as mental and even spiritual strength.

"Competitive breaking has been around since the 1990s, beginning with the creation of Battle of the Year in 1990. Battle of the Year was the first breaking event to establish formally judged competitions on a large scale.

Japanese b-boy Shigekix, pictured during the Beijing 2018 Youth Olympics where he won bronze, could be a major medal contender at the Paris 2024 Games ©OIS
Japanese b-boy Shigekix, pictured during the Beijing 2018 Youth Olympics where he won bronze, could be a major medal contender at the Paris 2024 Games ©OIS

"In addition to Battle of the Year and Freestyle Session, today’s major international breaking events include The Notorious IBE (Holland), Outbreak Europe (Slovakia), the Red Bull BC One Championships (Global), the UK B-Boy Championships (England), The Silverback Open (USA), BIS (China), and The Undisputed World Finals (Global), among many others primarily in North America, Europe and Asia.

"The Olympic Games, while being the biggest stage of them all, is simply an extension of what has already been taking place in the breaking scene for 30 years.

"Breaking deserves its place at the Olympic Games and we have every confidence that Olympic fans around the globe will be won over by the competition in Paris."

Commenting on his aspirations for Paris 2024, where breaking is scheduled to take part with other "urban" sports in the Place de la Concorde, Tay added: "For dancesport to be showcased at the Olympic Games - the biggest stage in sport - is a massive honour and one that comes with great responsibility. 

"We got a taste of the Olympic experience when breaking debuted at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, and everyone involved, from the athletes to the judges to the organisers, all left wanting more.

"With Paris 2024 now on the horizon, the WDSF is excited for the challenge, humbled by the opportunity, and 100 per cent ready to organise a breaking event for the ages.

"We will work hand in hand with the breaking community to ensure that the heart, soul and spirit of breaking is absolutely not compromised, while at the same time bringing a new energy and flavour to the Olympic Games.

"At the end of the day, the 32 best b-boys and b-girls in the world at the time will be competing at Paris 2024, and they will be the best ambassadors to show the world what breaking and dancesport is all about.

"The technique, variety, performance, musicality, creativity and personality that make up a typical set are sure to resonate with the uninitiated. Breaking truly has a little something for everyone - it is dynamic, athletic, energetic and entertaining.

"Each breaker tells his or her own personal story during a set, and we think the world will fall in love with those narratives at Paris 2024.

"Breaking brings a great deal of added value to the Olympic Games. Popular with young people around the world, it offers a sporting, artistic and cultural dimension, music and a vibrant atmosphere - it is truly unique among Olympic sports.

"In addition, breaking is universal. While its origins are in the United States, breaking’s elite b-boys and b-girls now also come from countries in Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa."

Unsurprisingly there is rising excitement within breaking ahead of its date with Olympic destiny.

Speaking to 8newsnow.com, the 18-year-old Las Vegas-based breaker ATN reacted unequivocally to the confirmation of the Paris 2024 place.

"I was ecstatic," ATN said. "I had hoped it would reach this level, but I never thought it actually would; it’s amazing."

A more nuanced reaction was elicited by Scotland’s Herald newspaper, which interviewed 39-year-old breaking veteran Chris "Sideshow" Maule, who performed at the Commonwealth Games handover ceremony in 2014.

"The decision has split those involved in breaking," he said. "Some think it will be brilliant for our scene and others think it’s terrible and argue that breaking is a dance and not a sport.

"But I think it’s great news. It is one of the most physically demanding artforms on the planet and the Olympics is all about bringing nations together to see who is the best in whatever discipline they are competing in.

Russia’s Sergei Chernyshev, who competes as “Bumblebee”, took gold at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympics and will be another strong contender to reach the senior Olympic podium at the Paris 2024 Games ©OIS
Russia’s Sergei Chernyshev, who competes as “Bumblebee”, took gold at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympics and will be another strong contender to reach the senior Olympic podium at the Paris 2024 Games ©OIS

"The top-level dancers train like athletes - while we used to just practise to make sure we could perform, the younger generation work really hard in the gym."

He added: "The WDSF had been trying for years to get ballroom into the Olympics without any joy. So their thinking now was if they could help get breaking in for 2024, then it might help them get ballroom included in future.

"A lot of folk involved in breaking got really angry at not being properly consulted. So there’s still a bit of conflict there. Some people are worried that breaking might just get tossed aside again after Paris."

Meanwhile, the focus turns again to the individual performers currently carrying the breaking banner in a competitive context, such as Japan’s Shigeyuki Nakarai, AKA Shigekix, who took bronze at the 2018 Buenos Aires YOG and last year won the Red Bull BC One title, one of the biggest in the event.

His elder sister, Ayane, has won the world title.

Others to watch include Russia’s Sergei Chernyshev, who competes as "Bumblebee" and took gold in Buenos Aires.

France's b-boy Martin, who took silver at Buenos Aires 2018, is another targeting a home gig at Paris 2024.

Within the b-girls competition there are also high expectations of Belgium’s MadMax and Russia’s Kastet.

As far as the Olympics are concerned, this is a new world of competition. It only remains for someone to resist the temptation to call the forthcoming event in Paris "The Notorious IOC".