In my last blog entry, I analyzed competitive cheerleading and dance as growing sports at the high school and collegiate level. I suggested that a path might exist for these sports to grow in the competition arena and potentially even gain entry to the Olympics. This is not as far fetched as it may sound, and does not necessarily have to be that far off in the future. In fact, organization of these “competitive sports” has already started: the International Cheer Union (ICU) will be formally applying to Sport Accord (an association of international sports federations) for membership next year; and the International Dance Sport Federation (IDSF) is already a member of Sport Accord and is diligently working to have competitive dance added as an Olympic Sport. However, history suggests that this may not be the best avenue to achieving Olympic or even NCAA status.
Snowboarding offers an interesting historical perspective, with many rather unexpected parallels. As one of the most popular Olympic events at the 2012 Olympics, it is hard to imagine the contentious path that snowboarding took to the Olympic Games.
During snowboarding’s rapid growth in the 1990’s, the international federation for the competitive aspects of the sport was the International Snowboard Federation (“ISF”). Terje Haakonsen, regarded by many as the best snowboarder ever, found his early fame on the ISF competition circuit (the ISF is separate from and should not be confused with the International Ski Federation, which is the FIS).
In deciding to add snowboarding as an Olympic event in 1998, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) controversially decided to name the skiing federation (FIS) as the recognized international federation for snowboarding, instead of the actual snowboarding federation – the ISF. Many professional snowboarders and industry insiders were unhappy with this decision, believing this to be a power grab by the ski federation, who had an existing relationship with the IOC, despite the feeling at the time that the FIS knew little about snowboarding. In fact, significantly and very publicly, Terje Haakonsen boycotted the 1998 Olympic Games, and has never competed in the Olympic Games. All the protests and boycotts did little to elevate the ISF. Instead, as the competitive aspects of the sport shifted to the FIS, the ISF ultimately folded in 2002.
Competitive snowboarding has flourished since its introduction to the Olympics. However, the “commercialization” of the sport has not had the dire consequences with respect to the more artistic aspects of snowboarding that some predicted. In fact, today many professional snowboarders have thriving careers based on film and video shoots, combined with commercial endorsements, without competing in snowboarding contests at all.
Competitive cheerleading and dance could learn from the experiences of snowboarding. The easiest path to the Olympic Games would be a partnership with an international sports federation that already has events inside the Olympic Games – for example, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). Organizing competitive cheer or dance under the umbrella of an established federation like FIG could rapidly increase the opportunities for dancers that do not exist today, possibly leading to dance as a full Olympic and NCAA sport. At the same time, as has been experienced with snowboarding, the artistic and professional opportunities that already exist in the dancing world should not be diminished in any way.