We Are Not Gymnastics
Nelson Mandela famously said ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.’
And he was right. Unfortunately, however, things that have the power to change the world for the better can, in the wrong hands, change it for the worse. Sport can also be abused, exploited and utilised by the corrupt to achieve their own self-serving ends. So it is with the recent vote by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to claim parkour as its ‘8th discipline’.
Let us be clear: parkour is not and never has been a discipline of gymnastics. Never mind the fact that, as a principle, it is the exact opposite of gymnastics (gymnastics being the mastery of a prescribed set of techniques on defined apparatus, with parkour a concept of adaptive, practical movement that requires no fixed apparatus). Never mind the fact that parkour arose completely independently of gymnastics, with its own history, its own culture, its own founding communities and its own very clear identity. Never mind the fact that parkour has its own well established and highly effective coach education and principles of practice and development. Never mind the fact that the very well organised and established parkour communities worldwide have repeatedly resisted this blatant appropriation by an organisation desperately trying to boost its failing numbers and maintain relevance in a changing world.
No, never mind all that. Parkour isn’t a discipline of anything else; because it’s more than just the movement, and always has been. It’s a way of thinking, a way of navigating adversity of all kinds, a way of exploring the self in relation to the world and in relation to others. It’s a way of training body, mind and soul. It’s a culture and a community and a language. It’s a transformative practice all of its own, and it’s been that from the very start. It’s far too expansive to be a ‘discipline of…’. And for the people who took part in this vote not to understand that is to invalidate them from even taking part in such a vote. The vote itself is a travesty, a farce, and an insult.
Of course, we have nothing against gymnastics as a sport, either. It produces some wonderful athletes honed to perform incredibly elaborate and specific movements for the purposes of competition, and its incredible to watch. But it’s far more specialised than parkour – and that means, following very simple logic, that, if anything, gymnastics is a discipline of parkour. So perhaps we should be governing them..?
No, it’s clear for anyone with an ounce of sense to see that this is a wilful and corrupt attempt to claim the exploding community of parkour practitioners as ‘gymnasts’ in name alone so as to be able to secure future funding from authorities who are prone to having the wool pulled over their eyes. It’s theft, plain and simple. And it brings great dishonour on the gymnastics organisations and their leaders who voted for this.
We reject this vote. We hold the very notion of a vote by the members of a separate discipline – who have no training in parkour, no understanding of it, no qualification to even comment on our practice – in contempt. We do not accept this untruth. We know that when Nelson Mandela spoke of the transformative power of sport, he did not mean this. Because we are not gymnastics. Because we are parkour.