There is no such thing as a 'weird' sport

The number of sports knocking on the doors for Olympic recognition is impressive. The numbers that have made it and then been dropped is impressive too.

Backers of cheerleading as a sport point to the definition of “sport” itself: “an athletic activity that requires physical prowess or skill and often a competitive nature,” and say it ticks all the boxes.   -  K. V. S. Giri

At a recent sports event where Olympians and other international stars were present, a gentleman in the audience stood up and introduced himself as someone who excelled at marbles in school. He wasn’t being facetious although a titter went around the room. Someone asked if he also played “seven tiles,” another popular sport in schools years ago.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a “weird” sport. Not so long ago, kabaddi was hardly known in urban India. Today it is a paying, professional sport and ready for the Olympics.

The number of sports knocking on the doors for Olympic recognition is impressive. The numbers that have made it and then been dropped is impressive too.

At the 1900 Olympics, there was live pigeon shooting. The same year tug-of-war made its debut. In 2020 in Tokyo, we might have a new event: breakdancing (it will be called “break”). At the following Olympics in Paris we might see cheerleading make its debut as a sport. These are exciting times for non-traditional sport which extend the definition of the term.

Meanwhile, ballroom dancing has been waiting for its cue. New Zealand farmers have been campaigning for sheep-shearing at the Olympics. Yoga and pole dancing hope to make it, too. Snooker was rejected for Tokyo while chess has missed the cut for Los Angeles. The Marylebone Cricket Club thinks cricket could make it in 2028, but India isn’t keen on it, and for the moment that’s all that matters.

Breakdancing obviously has come a long way. From the streets of 1980s New York to the other end of the world. As the International Olympic Committee said it “fits in with the goal of making the Olympics more gender-balanced, more youth-focused and more urban.” Hence, skateboarding, another event in Tokyo. Breakdancing was part of the World Youth Games in Buenos Aires last year, and would sit well with synchronised swimming, beach volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics.

Breakdancing went ahead of ballroom dancing in the Olympics stakes because of its youth element. This might have put paid to the aspirations of the Lithuanian-American Arunas Bizokas and his Russian-American partner Katusha Demidova who have won the world championships every year since 2009. They are both in their early 40s.

The cheerleading question — is it a sport or merely a sideshow — will finally be answered. It does involve training, athleticism and competition. George W. Bush was a cheerleader, and so were Samuel L. Jackson and Meryl Streep. In the 1980s, ESPN telecast competitive cheerleading at the National High School Cheerleading Championship. The International Cheer Union, the world governing body, was formed in 2004, and the first world championships were held then. There are currently 107 federations including Burundi, Kyrgyzstan and the Isle of Man.

Backers of cheerleading as a sport point to the definition of “sport” itself: “an athletic activity that requires physical prowess or skill and often a competitive nature,” and say it ticks all the boxes. Frisbee is in the queue, too. So no, our friend hadn’t lost his marbles.