Since 1982, when ESPN televised the first of many Cheerleading National Championships, there has been a slow, but consistent evolution of cheerleading from a recreational activity to a competitive sport. To some degree dance has been moving more in a competitive direction as well, with the proliferation of high school dance teams, and the popularity of competition dance shows such as “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Since I am surrounded by dancers both at home and at work, the topic of dance as a sport is one in which I have some interest.
It is generally accepted that cheerleading is a strenuous activity with a fairly high risk of injury. In fact, Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last year that cheerleading could be considered as a full contact sport. Cheerleadering accounts for almost two thirds of catastrophic injuries suffered by high school girls and college women, a fact that has been addressed by the NCAA.
A sport can be generally defined as an organized activity, requiring skillful capabilities, and in which a winner can be determined objectively according to a principal set of rules. In Title IX cases, some courts have characterized collegiate sport as including off-campus recruiting, a defined season and post season, a consistent set of rules, and competitive contests.
Much has been written about whether competitive cheerleading qualifies as a sport under Title IX, and the implications of that decision. See, for example, http://savingsports.blogspot.com. Another related issue that has been less explored is how competitive cheerleading and dance can better organize themselves to avail themselves of the opportunities that exist in collegiate and international sporting arenas. Organization has already started on two separate fronts: the International Cheer Union (ICU), which will be formally applying to Sport Accord (an association of international sports federations) for membership next year; and the International DanceSport Federation (IDSF), who is already a member of Sport Accord and is diligently working to have competitive dance added as an Olympic Sport. However, these organizations have a long way to go. For example, when the Connecticut courts ruled last month that Quinnipiac University’s competitive cheerleading team did not qualify as a sport for Title IX purposes, it was based in part on the observation that “the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
In my next blog entry, I will offer suggestions as to how competitive cheer and competitive dance could better organize themselves to increase their chance of being recognized as both NCAA and Olympic sports; and how they can learn from the organizational experience of the sport of snowboarding.