The Fight for Parkour

Parkour (aka freerunning) was formed in France in the 1980s and is a discipline that uses rapid movements such as running, climbing, swinging and jumping, to move from one point within an obstacle course (usually in an urban setting) to another. Only the natural abilities of the body is permitted and thus the use of assistive equipment is not allowed. The term 'Parkour' derives from the French word, 'Parcours' which means 'route' or 'course'.[1]

In early 2017, the United Kingdom became the first country to officially recognise Parkour as a sport with the Minister of Sport describing it as a 'fun, creative and innovative option." The home countries sport councils are Sport England, sportScotland, UK Sport, Sport Wales and Sport Northern Ireland. When determining whether a sport should be officially recognised, the bodies will refer to the Council of Europe's definition of sport which is described as any form of physical activity, casual or organised, aimed at "expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels." The recognition now allows the sport to grow and progress within the UK.[2]

Parkour has always been a non-competitive sport and strives on community spirit, however, in 2017 the International Sport Federation for gymnastics, Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) announced that it was to introduce a new competitive discipline based on Parkour with a goal to hold World Series competitions in 2018/19 and then World Championships from 2020 onwards. [3] The announcement has not sat well with a number of national federations for Parkour, most notably Parkour UK, the national governing body for Parkour in the UK, and Federation de Parkour, the national governing body for Parkour, in France.

FIG's position is that the discipline is parkour-inspired rather parkour itself. Parkour is non-competitive and for the sport to be recognised by the Olympic movement, there has to be a competitive element. FIG claims to have a long history not solely linked to the organisation of gymnastics and therefore, it considers itself the most appropriate body to provide a commitment, through education and awareness, to encourage people into the discipline and make full use of their motor skills. FIG has already taken steps to integrate the sport into its disciplines by formalising two obstacle course events: an 'obstacle course sprint' (an against-the-clock format) and an 'obstacle course freestyle' (to be judged on individual performance). FIG has stressed that their plans differ from those of national parkour organisations on the basis that parkour is non-competitive and their implementation of the sport will be competitive.[4]

It is not surprising that FIG's intentions have ruffled the feathers of numerous Parkour organisations. Parkour, at this stage, is non-competitive but with the recent recognition of the sport in the UK, there is nothing to suggest that that may not change, in the future, once the sport develops further. Whilst outside of the Olympics, sporting organisations may technically announce themselves as the governing body of a particularly sport, it is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), under the Olympic Charter, that has the power to officially recognise an organisation as the International Sport Federation for that particular discipline, at Olympic level - FIG has already recognised that Parkour requires to be competitive for the IOC to take notice. Once the IOC officially recognises an International Sport Federation, the channels are thereafter open for increased funding and sponsorship opportunities. As a result, this is very much a live issue and a concern for the national organisations governing parkour who could be effectively shut out, at international level, if FIG were to be recognised as the International Sport Federation for the Parkour discipline.[5]

Parkour UK had the following to say with regards to FIG's move to implement the new discipline:

"As the recognised custodians of the recognised sport of Parkour/Freerunning in the UK and to protect and promote the integrity, rights, freedoms and interests of Traceurs/Freerunners (practitioners of our sport), our member organisations & the UK community – as well as by legitimate extension the international Parkour/Freerunning community – Parkour UK feel that it is both necessary and expedient to provide some much needed clarification on Parkour/Freerunning, such that our sport is neither misappropriated and/or encroached upon by FIG internationally and/or nationally by any FIG member National Federations.
Parkour UK has experienced similar encroachment and misappropriation, beyond ethical, established and recognised norms, of our sport by British Gymnastics, a FIG member NGB/National Federation, via the development of ‘Freestyle Gymnastics / FreeG’ – which clearly mimics and imitates Parkour/Freerunning. Parkour UK has pro-actively, positively and robustly addressed this with British Gymnastics & the UK Sports Councils since March 2013, to ensure that our sport is not misappropriated and/or encroached upon. Parkour UK has achieved the necessary independent recognition as the NGB/National Federation and independent recognition for Parkour/Freerunning as a sport throughout the UK. This has ensured, with absolute clarification that Parkour/Freerunning is a distinct and unique sport in its own right and not a discipline of any existing sport/activity.
Parkour/Freerunning is not “Gymnastics”, nor are Traceurs/Freerunners “Gymnasts”. We are our own sovereign sport with independently recognised distinct uniqueness and cultural status. We are Parkour/Freerunning, we are Traceurs/Freerunners."
The dispute is currently ongoing and at the time of writing, there appears to be no resolution, on the horizon, any time soon. Depending on how the situation develops, Parkour UK has advised that it is willing to take the dispute to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, if necessary.

To allow the Court to make a determination as to what organisation is the most appropriate to govern the sport, parties will require to submit evidence, in support of their case. This may include evidence in support of historical background and relationship with the sport; past-efforts to develop and raise awareness of the sport; any technical features that may distinguish the sport from the opposing organisation as well as evidence of parties' capabilities to govern and continue to develop the sport, in the future and at an international level.

For further information regarding the dispute, full correspondence from Parkour UK to FIG can be found here.

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

1. http://parkour.uk/what-we-do/what-is-parkour/
2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/38567616
3. http://www.asoif.com/news/fig-creates-new-parkour-based-competitive-obstacle-course-discipline
4. http://www.fig-gymnastics.com/site/figNews/view?id=1799
5. https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/olympic_charter_en.pdf

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