Why Parkour Won’t Be Featured at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Parkour: l’Art du Déplacement has gone from being an underground sport at the start of the naughties, even to the point of being unknown, to a popular and trendy phenomenon. Originally from France, the mysterious sport, whose name simply translates to “course: the art of movement” began to be featured in French films such as “Banlieue 13” (“District B13” in Hollywood). Since then, the sport spread like wildfire and even began to be practiced by the public. Lately, however, it has gained unwanted attention by the Olympics committee. The officials have noticed its competitive success, with various contests such as the World Parkour Championship, played in Turkey this year, the Origins Parkour Pro and the North American Parkour Championship. As a result, the committee would like to include it in the Olympic games, but under the gymnastics category.

Why Parkour Won’t Be Featured at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The thing of it is, parkour organizations and practicers have no interest in being part of the extremely commercial enterprise that is the Olympics. Associations in Australia, the UK, France, New Zealand, Argentina and Singapore refuse to work with the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation), claimed encroachment and misappropriation of their practice. Parkour is not considered to be a competitive sport by most practitioners, the obvious exception being professional athletes. It is instead seen as a philosophical exercise as well as a physical one, much like yoga. Furthermore, there is serious concern about the commercialization of the sport, which draws away from the underground, private aspect of its culture. In fact, Eugene Minogue, president of Parkour UK, was quoted with “you lose all of that culture, that heritage, the authenticity, the very fabric that makes the sport and the community what it is and what makes it so different to other traditional sports”.

A very similar story happened with snowboarding in the 1990s. Despite a lack of popular approval, in the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided it was time to include the sport in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. However, it was placed under the International Ski Federation’s umbrella rather than welcoming the International Snowboard Federation. Snowboarding thus became a sub-discipline of skiing. The same situation is taking place with parkour and gymnastics, where instead of accepting parkour as its own discipline, it would be placed under the International Gymnastics Federation as a sub-category. In fact, BMX, which is also to be played in the 2020 Games for the first time, has been placed in the cycling category even though the skills involved are completely different than in road or mountain biking.

Why Parkour Won’t Be Featured at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

There are nonetheless some extraordinary professional parkour athletes. For example, Jesse La Flair has placed in eight different National and International competitions, placing first in two events. In 2013, he won the Best Trick Award for holding the highest scoring run of all time at the Red Bull Art of Motion. Ryan Doyle is a crucial name in parkour. Being one of the older athletes, though a disadvantage in some respects, gives him more experience and expertise than some of his younger counterparts. UK born Doyle helped found the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation in 2007, adding to his fame and notoriety. The sportsman was also featured in a few movies, such as “Freerunner” from 2011, and his YouTube channel has over 70,000 subscribers. 

There has been enough backlash by the general public and by parkour associations worldwide that the sport will not feature in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There is however talk of a presence in the 2024 Paris Games.