In an announcement in early December, the International Olympic Committee declared that cheerleading, along with the martial art of muaythai, would receive provisional recognition as Olympic sports. The two disciplines will now be able to tap into IOC funding and take part in a number of programs, including athlete development and anti-doping. At the end of their three-year provisional recognition period, they can apply to become part of the Olympic Games sports program.
American Jim Webb, the founder of Varsity Sports, was a key player in advancing the case for cheerleading with the IOC. Memphis-based Varsity Sports has helped transform the sport with televised competitions and added stunts and skills. Webb says that one of the many hurdles in his IOC campaign was convincing the powerful Gymnastics Federation (FIG) that it would not be encroaching on their popularity.
“One of the problems for the Olympic Games is there are just so many sports and that could change but when somebody goes in, somebody has to go out and of course we’re not interested in creating any enemies. There’s so many sports being formed now that it’s tough, it’s a crowded space and they vet you very, very thoroughly.
One of the key components of what we do that makes it very different is that visual effect of so many people doing these different stunts and skills at the same time that make it very appealing to watch,” Webb told Reuters.
Sixteen sports had applied for recognition by the IOC this year. Both muaythai and cheerleading will receive $25,000 a year in direct funding. The International Cheer Union (ICU) currently has over 100 national federations and nearly 4.5 million registered athletes.
“When we first started our World Championships there was a big gap between the U.S. and Canada and now there is a lot of parity with countries from Europe and Asia that win medals and that sometimes beat the U.S. and Canadian teams. Thailand has some great cheerleading. Japan has outstanding cheerleading. Some of the countries in Europe, Norway, Finland, Germany, the UK has outstanding cheerleading. It’s developing everywhere,” Webb said.
While becoming part of the Olympic Games is a drawn-out seven-year progress, the IOC has changed the rules to allow host cities to introduce sports of their choice for a one-off appearance in the Games. Tokyo, hosts of the 2020 Games, will have surfing, sport climbing and karate among the six new sports they have included in their Olympics.