Many parkour practitioners consider it as more of a philosophical exercise than a sporting one. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
You would think most sports would jump at the chance to be included in the Olympic Games, but parkour is a little more complicated.
The sport, which involves jumping, climbing and running through urban environments, is being courted by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), which wants to establish a new parkour-inspired discipline.
But the move has provoked a strong backlash from the parkour community.
“The big bullies are coming in and just trying to muscle in and take it away from everyone,” said Matthew Campbell of Melbourne, who has been practising parkour for 13 years.
“It is just people with more power and money looking to stomp on everyone else.
So why are they so upset?
Describing parkour as a sport can be contentious. For many practitioners it is as much a philosophical exercise as a physical one.
For most of them it’s not about competition.
“Parkour by nature is non-competitive, so as soon as you make it a competition, to me, it is not parkour anymore, it is just the moves,” vice president of the Australian Parkour Association Amy Han said.
“We are a sporting nation and I get that, and a lot of people understand sport and exercise and competition through having levels and awards and that’s how you know you are progressing, and that’s how you know that you’re good at something, but that is not the parkour mentality.”
In May, FIG ran its first parkour-based test event, an Obstacle Course Cup in Montpelier, France, which was attended by officials from the International Olympic Committee.
Significantly, the event was supported by two of the founders of parkour, David Belle and Charles Perriere.
In an open letter to the parkour community, Belle and Perriere said the time had come “to put a foot across the line that separate[s] us from competition.”
Australian Parkour Association Amy Han says parkour is non-competitive by nature. (ABC News: Damian McIver)
But many long-time enthusiasts are dismayed by this new turn.
Parkour associations in Australia, the UK, France, New Zealand, Argentina and Singapore are refusing to work with FIG and have protested against the “encroachment and misappropriation of our practice.”
What does Gymnastics Australia have to say?
Gymnastics Australia (GA) is supportive of FIG’s push to incorporate parkour. Last year, it launched a parkour-inspired Free-G program in 65 gyms across the country.
The chief executive of GA, Mark Rendell said there has been some “mixed messages” from the parkour community, but he was confident an agreement could be reached.
Parkour associations in Australia, the UK, France, New Zealand, Argentina and Singapore have protested against the “misappropriation” of Parkour. (AAP: Julian Smith)
“I think gymnastics is the foundation of all sports and parkour is an outcome of learning those fundamentals – we think it is a great opportunity to bring more disciplines that are closely aligned, closer together and work collaboratively for the growth of the sport,” he said.
“I think the president of the international gymnastics federation has made it clear that he wants to respect the traditions and values of parkour.”
There are currently 560 gymnastics clubs across Australian with more than 200,000 active participants.
The majority of these participants are female and under 12, and the sport is keen to broaden its base.
“We see parkour as an opportunity to keep kids in the gym longer and give them an opportunity to achieve their sporting goals,” said Rendell.
What happens now?
FIG is now planning to establish a Parkour Committee, which will be chaired by David Belle and will hold its first meeting at the end of July.
The organisation is aiming to hold sprint and freestyle obstacle course world cups in 2018 and 2019, and a world championships in 2020.
Meanwhile, parkour associations are planning to continue their resistance.
“We are fighting against a lot of money and a lot of power, so it’s going to be difficult,” Campbell said.
“But it’s not in the nature of parkour people to give up.”