Olympics (2) and Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia

Modern use of Olympia:

Jack Johnson: first global star of sport

"The legendary world heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur 'Jack' Johnson, visits Manchester.

The charisma of world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson is palpable in these shots of his visit to Manchester. In the build-up to his fight with British and Empire champion, Bombardier Wells, due to be held at Earl's Court on 2 October 1911, Johnson toured Britain's music halls where his sparring demonstrations proved hugely popular.

It's likely that his tour of Manchester Docks would have coincided with appearances at Manchester's theatres, quite possibly the Regent Theatre, seen here. In the event, under the influence of Methodist minister, Rev. F.B. Meyer, and other clergymen, the Chairman of the London Council prohibited the scheduled fight with Wells on 'religious' grounds, threatening to withdraw Earls Court's licence should it go ahead. The venue's manager reluctantly cancelled the fight but Johnson's music hall tour continued. The conservative clergymen feared that images of a black sporting hero might have a negative impact on the morality of British people."

Modern sports and 1896 Olympics

Racing Calendar

Sorry, I could not find an image of the first year (1773)
This is the 1775 issue


Article of the day: Tricking and treating has a history

Tricking and treating has a history

File 20171025 25497 1j08u4j.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Halloween parade in New York. AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
Regina Hansen, Boston University
Over the past few decades, Halloween celebrations have gained in popularity, not only with children and families, but with all those fascinated with the spooky and scary.
As a scholar of myth and religion in popular culture, I look at Halloween with particular interest – especially the ways in which today’s Halloween tradition came to evolve.

A pre-Christian tradition

Many practices associated with Halloween have origins in the pre-Christian, or pagan, religion of the Celts, the original inhabitants of the British Isles, as well as parts of France and Spain.
The Celts held a feast called Samhain – a celebration of the harvest, the end of summer and the turn of the year. Samhain was separated by six months from Beltane, an observance of the beginning of summer, which took place on May 1 and is now known as May Day. Because Samhain led into the cold, fruitless and dark days of winter, the feast was also an opportunity to contemplate death and to remember those who had gone before.
The Celts believed that the veil between the living and the dead was thinner during this time, and that spirits of the dead could walk on Earth. Bonfires were lit to ward off the coming winter darkness, but also to sacrifice livestock and crops as offerings to the gods and spirits.
Some scholars – because of the long historical association of the Celts with the Romans – have also linked the modern observance of Halloween to the Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. During that festival people practiced divination, which uses occult for gaining knowledge of the future.
One of the practices was similar to the modern-day Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples – a party game in which people attempt to use only their teeth to pick up apples floating in a tub or a bowl of water. Originally, it was believed that whoever could bite the apple first would get married the soonest.

Later influences

Many of the modern-day practices of Halloween and even its name were influenced by Christianity.
Halloween coincides with Christian celebrations honoring the dead. In the autumn, Christians celebrate All Saints’ Day – a day to honor martyrs who died for their faith and saints. They also celebrate All Souls’ Day – a day to remember the dead and to pray for souls more generally.
The history of how these dates came to coincide is worth noting: It suggests ways in which the pagan holiday may have been absorbed into Christian observance. Starting around the seventh century A.D., Christians celebrated All Saints Day on May 13. In the mid-eighth century, however, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day from May 13 to Nov. 1, so that it coincided with the date of Samhain.
Although there is disagreement about whether the move was made purposely so as to absorb the pagan practice, the fact is that from then on Christian and pagan traditions did begin to merge. In England, for example, All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows Day. The night before became All Hallows Eve, Hallowe’en, or Halloween, as it is now known.
Around A.D. 1000, Nov. 2 was established as All Souls Day. Throughout the Middle Ages, this three-day period was celebrated with Masses. But the Pagan tradition of appeasing the spirits of the dead remained, including the Christian – now Catholic – practice of lighting candles for the souls in Purgatory.

Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in East Sussex, England. Peter Trimming, CC BY-SA

People still light bonfires on Oct. 31, especially those in regions where the Celts originally settled. In Ireland, bonfires are lit on Halloween. In England, the bonfire tradition has been transferred to Nov. 5. This is known as Guy Fawkes Day and commemorates the Gunpowder Plot, a thwarted attempt by Catholics, led by Guy Fawkes, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
There are other practices that continue today. In England, for example, one of the practices on All Hallows Eve was to go door to door begging for small currant biscuits called soul cakes, which were offered in exchange for prayers. While not all scholars agree, it is part of popular belief that this practice is echoed in the modern tradition of trick-or-treating.
In Ireland, people would walk the streets carrying candles in a hollowed-out turnip, the precursor of today’s jack o’lantern, or the carved pumpkin.

The carved pumpkins. Sarah Ackerman, CC BY

When the tradition came to the US

Halloween, however, did not make its way to the United States until the 1840s, when waves of immigrants from the Celtic countries of Ireland and Scotland arrived. These immigrants brought with them their tradition of Halloween, including dancing, masquerading, fortune-telling games and – in some places – the practice of parading the neighborhood asking for treats, such as nuts and fruits and coins.
By the late 19th century, some stores began offering commercially made candy for Halloween.
The North American observance of Halloween also included everything from minor pranks to some major vandalism, as well as a lot of drinking. By the early 20th century, however, many municipalities and churches attempted to curb this behavior by turning Halloween into a family celebration with children’s parties and, eventually, trick-or-treating as we know it today.

Halloween today

Today, Halloween has become a multi-million-dollar industry.
Candy sales, costumes, decorations, seasonal theme parks, annual television specials and October horror movie premieres are some of the many ways North Americans spend their money on the holiday.

Trick-or-treaters in costume. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

But Halloween has come to mean many things to many people. Roman Catholics and many mainline Protestants, for example, continue to observe All Saints’ Day for its spiritual significance. In the Catholic Church it is considered a holy day of obligation, when people are required to go to Mass. All Souls’ Day is celebrated soon after. In fact, the entire month of November is set aside as a time to pray for the dead.
On the other hand, some people reject Halloween because of its pagan origins and its perceived association with witchcraft and the devil. Others see it as too commercial or primarily for children.
The ConversationNonetheless, whether people see it as a children’s holiday, a sacred ritual, a harvest festival, a night of mischief, a sophisticated adult celebration or a way to make money, Halloween has become an integral part of North American culture.
Regina Hansen, Senior Lecturer, Rhetoric, Boston University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article of the week: FC Barcelona and the Catalan struggle for independence

 (Copied with permission from https://theconversation.com/fc-barcelona-and-the-catalan-struggle-for-independence-85016)

FC Barcelona and the Catalan struggle for independence

Simon Chadwick, University of Salford
FC Barcelona’s motto “mes que un club” or “more than a club” is emblazoned across the team’s website, splashed across the seats of its Nou Camp stadium and embroidered on the collars of first-team shirts.
The slogan dates back to the Catalan club’s formation in 1899, when a Swiss émigré founded what is now commonly referred to as “Barca”. Hans Max Gamper-Haessig, who was enthralled by Catalonia and would later change his name to Joan Gamper, established Barca as a membership club. Even today, these members pay an annual fee to become part of what many see as one of world football’s best governed clubs.
From the outset, Barcelona has been a focal point for Catalan identity, as well as a symbol of democracy. So much so that in 1925 then Spanish prime minister, Primo de Rivera, accused Gamper and Barca of promoting Catalan nationalism. Later, during the Spanish Civil War, Nou Camp would become one of few places in the city where people could openly speak in Catalan.
It is therefore unsurprising that in recent weeks FC Barcelona has become central to the region’s independence vote. On Sunday, the day of the vote – which was declared illegal by Spain’s central government – Barca called for its league match against Las Palmas to be postponed, as violence spread across the city. When its request was denied, the club issued a last minute statement that condemned the attempts to stop citizens voting and said that the game would go ahead, but behind closed doors.
This match was, though, laden with meaning. Some criticised the club for selling out to television companies, putting money from broadcasting contracts ahead of political principles. Others observed that pressure has been placed on Barca by La Liga president Javier Tebas, a lifelong Real Madrid fan. He also gave permission for the Las Palmas team to play with a special Spanish flag (intended to symbolise Spanish unity) woven into their shirts.
One of the players on the field during the game was Barca’s talismanic defender, Gerard Piqué, who has publicly professed his support for the Catalonia independence vote. Piqué, recently booed by other Spanish fans, has even offered to quit playing for the country’s national team.

Commercial concerns

FC Barcelona is clearly, then, much more than a club. It is a complicated and highly politicised entity in a way the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal have never been. But herein lies an important challenge, which probably serves as a metaphor too for the many other challenges facing Catalonia – how to successfully navigate the future post-independence.
Top-level professional football is no longer just a local game for local people. It is a mass-market product traded by businesses for a commercial return. And Barca is no exception. A shirt sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways drew condemnation from fans for moving the club in a more commercial direction. Some cynics have even referred to Barca’s “Madridification”.
In this context, recent events pose significant challenges for Barca’s business dealings. For example, in the middle of Sunday’s events, the club issued a public statement asserting that it supported the right to Catalonian self-determination and condemned any act by the Spanish state that might impede its people’s democratic right to vote in the referendum.
As a philosophy – and as a brand proposition – this is both noble and distinctive. But for a club that has been casting covetous eyes at Asian markets, it could prove troublesome. The last thing the Qataris or Chinese will want is for fans and businesses in their countries to be building a relationship with a club that advocates separatism and a disregard for central government authority.
It will therefore be worthwhile keeping a close eye on messages coming out of Doha, Beijing and elsewhere in Asia. That said, given Catalan diasporas in Latin America – those that fled the region during the Spanish civil war – at least part of the club’s overseas commercial strategy targeting fans looks set to remain in tact.
Speculation abounds as to what secession would mean for Barca, whether it could stay in Spain’s top flight (Tebas has said the club will not be allowed to remain in the league in the event of secession), and whether it would lose its UEFA membership and right to play Champions League football.
Some have even suggested that Barca could join England’s Premier League. Commercially, this might seem like a marriage made in heaven. But it is extremely unlikely to happen, not least because of the potential complexities of such a move. The other alternative – a small Catalonia league with the likes of local rivals Espanyol, Girona and Tarragona – is hard to imagine and would struggle to generate sizeable revenues.
The ConversationSuch a debate may sound premature. But it’s indicative of how the club has to consider its commercial, as well as political priorities. Gamper was right, FC Barcelona is more than a club. But football in 1899 was a rather different proposition to football in the 21st century. The power of Catalan politics might be compelling, but in football the lure of global revenue streams may yet trump regional idealism.
Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise, University of Salford
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Course landaise, recortadores and forcados

See Wikipedia contributors, "Course landaise," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Course_landaise&oldid=795372071 (accessed
September 19, 2017).

 See Wikipedia contributors, "Forcado," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Forcado&oldid=715660928 (accessed
September 19, 2017).

The Hollywood version: Ben-Hur (2016)

The Hollywood version : Ben-Hur (1959)


Some more videos on chariot races

Mosaic in Cyprus discovered in 2017

Chariot racing mosaic (Lyon, France) (with slides)

Sorry the video is entirely in French
Here is an English summary:
1. The mosaic shows almost a full race, from the start to the middle of the action
2. A member of the elite or the officials drops a white scarf to signal the start of the race 
3. An employee moves a crank to open the doors to the horses
4. It is a a four horses chariots race
5. There are 4 teams: Blue, Green, Red, White
6. There were avid spectators and fans, and bets were very important
7. Many employees are working around the track
8. One person spreads water on the ground to reduce dust
9. Two people wait for the end of the race to give the winner his prices: a palm and a laurel wreath
10. Another one is carrying a pair of scissors to rescue drivres if they fall and untangle them for their chariot
11. Two chariots missed turning the curve and their drivers are in danger
12. Skill and strategy were essential to get a victory

See Wikipedia contributors, "Circus Games Mosaic," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Circus_Games_Mosaic&oldid=700809328 (accessedOctober 3, 2017). 

Horror humanum est, Bread and Circuses (Gladiators, with slides)

Thank you: reainfo, « Horror Humanum Est ». Entretien avec S. Forichon, in : Actualités des études anciennes, ISSN format électronique : 2492.864X, 28/09/2016, https://reainfo.hypotheses.org/4855.



6月14日(水) イベロアメリカ研究センターの公開講座『サッカービジネスほど素敵な仕事はない』を開催します

関西外国語大学 イベロアメリカ研究センターは2017年6月14日(水)、公開講座『サッカービジネスほど素敵な仕事はない』を中宮キャンパスのマルチメディアホールで開講します。入場は無料ですが事前申込が必要です。多数のご来場をお待ちしています。

関西外国語大学 イベロアメリカ研究センター主催




日時:2017年6月14日(水) 午後5時~午後6時30分(午後4時30分 開場)


講演:浜田 満氏(株式会社Amazing Sports Lab Japan 代表取締役社長)



電話:(072)805-2801(代) [担当:大学秘書室]

Copied from http://www.kansaigaidai.ac.jp/headline/detail/?id=130


Article of the day: Kosovo's upcoming Iceland match is more than just football — it's a diplomatic score

Kosovo's upcoming Iceland match is more than just football — it's a diplomatic score

Loïc Trégourès, Université de Lille 2 – Université de Lille
Australian football star Besart Berisha recently flew to Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, to play for the country where he was born. “For me, it’s a very exciting time and I hope I have a great game,” he told the press. The Conversation
Set for March 25, the game – Kosovo against Iceland – is part of the first round of qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But it is much more than a simple football match. Sports diplomacy has been the most successful strategy implemented by Kosovo to garner international recognition.
It’s been nine years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, after Kosovo Albanians sought independence during the Yugoslavian wars. Existing tensions rose to a climax between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, culminating in the Kosovo War of 1998 to 1999, which required UN intervention.
Kosovo’s journey towards full international recognition is still going, with 114 UN member states recognising the country so far. Chinese and Russian opposition to recognise the country prevents Kosovo from becoming a member of the UN; recently, Russia reassured Serbia that it would not change its position.
Most countries that recognised Kosovo did so in 2008-2009. Since then, the supportive countries have been few, and the numbers of recognition have come to a standstill in past years – unless Serbia finally takes a stand to officially recognise Kosovo (which seems highly unlikely). Thus, the strategy of using sport as a tool of visibility and legitimacy allows Kosovo to claim its political existence.

Kosovo’s branding strategies

To bypass this deadlock, the country has adopted alternative strategies. Its very active digital diplomacy led to its recognition by Facebook: users can now select “Kosovo” as their country of origin, while Serbia was the default option before. A 2016 Oscar nomination for a short film also created buzz.
Sport is also being actively used as a diplomatic tool. It wasn’t incidental that during his congratulatory address to Kosovo on independence, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mentioned the country’s FIFA membership and the Olympic title won by judo champion Maljinda Kelmendi as tremendous successes for the country. Participation in international sporting events is a symbolic way for a specific country to show evidence of its very existence.
Who could deny that Kosovo existed when Kelmendi won the 2016 Rio Olympics title in judo before the world’s eyes? Who can deny the country exists when its football national team is part of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers?
Taking part in an international sporting event makes it possible for a state – especially a young or small one – to get on the map, to accustom the world to seeing its flag and hearing its national anthem. In this sense, sport is a tool of soft power and an affordable way to be granted international symbolic recognition.
Croatia, Qatar and Jamaica, to name a few, are familiar with this process; athletics has given them a visibility far greater than their political weight in the world.
For Kosovo, the crucial decision came in late 2014 when the International Olympic Committee unanimously decided to admit the country as an official member, opening the way for other international sport federation to do the same. FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) followed in 2016.
In fact, Kosovo’s path to FIFA membership started shortly after independence in 2008 thanks to Fadil Vokrri, a former Partizan Belgrade player who had represented the Yugoslav national team in the 1980s. He became president of the Kosovo football federation in 2008 and, acknowledging that his country wouldn’t be granted membership before a majority of countries politically recognised it, advocated a step-by-step approach – from getting Kosovo into the international transfer system to allowing its teams to play friendly games, which FIFA did in 2013.

Football diplomacy

The Kosovo example embodies how political football can be. First, while high-profile members of FIFA were keen on accepting Kosovo, then-UEFA president Michel Platini was against the move, calling the case political.
Second, because Serbia and other countries, such as Russia, Greece and Spain, were opposed to FIFA allowing Kosovo even to play friendlies the league had to negotiate with both UEFA and Serbia to find a compromise.
That’s why FIFA didn’t allow Kosovo to play friendly games before 2013 even though it was technically possible. FIFA’s president at the time, Sepp Blatter, insisted on negotiating an agreement with the Serbian federation instead of making a unilateral decision.

Football embodies Kosovo’s claim into the UEFA Poland, 2012. Blerimuka/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

The game-changer seems to have been a 2013 Belgrade-Pristina political agreement, made off the record and signed under EU supervision. In it, Serbia pledged to stop obstructing Kosovo’s path to international sporting organisations.
Still, Serbia continues to work against Kosovo’s recognition in other international organisations such as UNESCO. When Kosovo recently applied to become a member it was rejected by 50 countries.
It is Vokrri’s hope that the Kosovo national team will one day be a symbol of the country’s civic identity that includes every citizen, regardless of nationality – Albanian, Serb or Roma. It could be, he told me in an interview, much like the Bosnian national team, which is now ethnically mixed.
For scholars seeking to learn about identity dynamics and inclusiveness in Kosovo, it seems there is no better tool than football.
Loïc Trégourès, Docteur en science politique, chercheur au CERAPS, Université de Lille 2 – Université de Lille
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article of the day: Asia's Olympic moment has its roots in Cold War politics

Asia's Olympic moment has its roots in Cold War politics

Stefan Huebner, National University of Singapore
China, host of the 2008 Summer and 2022 Winter Olympic Games, has turned into a major sports power, if its medal tally at the recent Rio Olympics is any indication. Japan, which will hold the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and South Korea, where the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games will be held, are further examples of the growing influence of a group of Asian countries in the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Conversation
Taken together, this indicates that “the time of Asia” in the Olympic movement has indeed arrived, as IOC president Thomas Bach recently said.
But East Asia is not all of Asia. An Indian bid for the Olympic Games, for instance, seems unrealistic in the near future. And southeast and Central Asian countries’ bids to host the 2000 or 2008 Summer Olympics have also been unsuccessful.
Iran is the anomaly; until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it was considered a very serious candidate for hosting Olympic Summer Games. Some other countries in West Asia and the Middle East, such as Qatar (the host of the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup and an unsuccessful bidder for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics), have recently gained a noteworthy influence in sports affairs as a result of their financial wealth.
Many of these developments go back to the 1970s. This period saw a large-scale reconfiguration of Olympic sport in Asia and demands to give Asian countries more influence at the IOC. But it was the Seventh Asian Games (Tehran 1974), a regional sporting event and training platform for the Olympics held under the patronage of the IOC, that accelerated the “rise” of the above-mentioned Asian countries in the Olympic movement.

The ‘two Chinas’ problem

The struggle for legitimacy between China and Taiwan is the background to all this. Since 1949, both have claimed to be the sole representative of “China”. This meant that each country was unwilling to participate in any sporting event in which the other country was also taking part.
China had left the Olympic movement in 1958 as a direct result of its conflict with Taiwan. And the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, resulted in Beijing’s withdrawal from all other international sporting events.
The country returned to the Olympic Games only in 1980. Its return was the result of earlier negotiations with the IOC about Beijing’s intended participation in the Seventh Asian Games in 1974.
One of China’s main supporters was Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s Iran. His engagements with China led to increased anti-Soviet political cooperation after Tehran diplomatically recognised Beijing in 1971.
Shortly afterwards, Beijing took the seat of “China” in the United Nations, which had been held by Taipei until then. This was the result of decolonisation and of a growing number of UN member countries being sympathetic to Beijing’s claim.
The Japanese members of the Asian Games Federation were also important supporters of China’s participation. The Japanese had come to the conclusion that Beijing represented China and intended to make the Asian Games more of a challenge by including Chinese athletes.
Simultaneously, the Tehran Games, the first hosting of an Asian Games event in West Asia, had a strong impact on many of the Arab countries in the region. Some of them had only shortly beforehand experienced decolonisation and a financial boom through the first Oil Crisis in 1973.
In the end, seven of them joined the Asian Games Federation before or during the Seventh Games, which encouraged their involvement in Olympic sports affairs.

The geopolitical background

Geopolitical shifts had a massive impact on the Iranian government’s plan to leverage China to counterbalance the Soviet Union. Strong ideological tensions had emerged between China and the Soviet Union since the late 1950s.
The reason for the heightened concern over the USSR in the 1970s was the 1969 declaration by an overstretched Britain of its intent to permanently withdraw all its troops based east of the Suez Canal by 1971. This decision strongly contributed to the decolonisation process in the Persian Gulf.
These tensions eventually convinced the Iranians that China could be used to limit the USSR’s freedom of action.
Intensifying cooperation with other Asian countries, and especially with China through the hosting of the Seventh Asian Games, was a way to support Iran’s anti-USSR plan.
After Japan and China normalised relations in September 1972 and the Japanese Olympic Committee became interested in bringing China into the Asian Games, discussions with the Iranians intensified. A final decision was reached at an Asian Games Federation council meeting on November 16 1973.
The People’s Republic was chosen as the representative of China. And Taiwan was expelled from the Asian Games until 1990, when it accepted being renamed as “Chinese Taipei”, leaving its international status vague.
International sports federations and the IOC, by then tired of decades of Cold War-related political quarrels within the Olympic movement, eventually accepted China’s participation and the highly problematic discrimination against Taiwan.

Asia’s growing influence

China’s return to the Olympic movement via the Seventh Asian Games had a significant influence on its participation in the Olympics beginning with the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.
The IOC’s acceptance of the Asian countries’ decision regarding China and especially Taiwan highlighted Japan’s growing importance on the world stage, given that it had already hosted the Olympics twice – in 1964 and 1972.
Though less influential, Arab countries also became more involved in Olympic affairs through the Seventh Asian Games. Only Iran was unable to utilise this newly gained influence.
Then-IOC president Lord Killanin, who had attended the Seventh Asian Games, judged Tehran qualified to host the Summer Olympics in 1980 (eventually held in Moscow) and 1984 (eventually held in Los Angeles). The Shah’s government, though, had to deal with the superpowers’ own desires to host these events and in 1979 was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. Needless to say, the new government was not interested in continuing these plans.
Iran never applied for the 1988 Summer Games. These games then took place in South Korea, the second Asian country ever chosen (instead of Iran) to host the Olympics.
In the case of Southeast Asia, the next Asian Games (Jakarta and Palembang 2018) will reveal if Indonesia is willing – and able – to host the Olympic Games in the not too distant future.
Stefan Huebner, Research Fellow in Asian and Global History, National University of Singapore
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article of the day: Cheerleading’s peculiar path to potential Olympic sport

Cheerleading's peculiar path to potential Olympic sport

Jaime Schultz, Pennsylvania State University
Is cheerleading a sport?
The International Olympic Committee thinks so. In December, the IOC’s executive board voted to provisionally recognize cheerleading. This means that for the next three years, the IOC will provide the International Cheer Union (ICU) with at least US$25,000 annually to promote the sport. During that time, the ICU can apply for full Olympic recognition in the Summer Olympic Games. ICU president Jeff Webb called the decision a “monumental milestone for cheerleading” and “the culmination of my life’s work.”
I study the history of women’s sport, which makes me curious about Webb’s enthusiasm for the IOC’s decision. In the past, he has argued against classifying cheerleading as a sport. So why the sudden reversal?
The IOC’s decision isn’t the first time a major organization has played a role in determining whether cheerleading is a sport. A brief history shows that the debate is more complicated – and more political – than it might seem.

A brief history of cheer

Cheerleading dates back to the late 1800s, when U.S. college football started gaining popularity. “Cheer leading” – as it was then known – was for men only and the “rooter kings” and “yell leaders” were often captains of other sports teams. The prestige of the position, The Nation wrote in 1911, was “hardly second to that of having been a quarter-back.”
Around the 1930s, girls and women began pushing for inclusion. By World War II, the demographics of most squads changed, and cheerleading transformed from a physical activity to a primarily social activity.
Soon, professional teams found that cheerleaders’ wholesome sexuality boosted the entertainment value of their product. By the mid-1970s, an estimated 95 percent of all cheerleaders were girls and women.

A business booms

Title IX of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972 ushered in the first debate over cheerleading’s status as a sport. School administrators who hoped to count cheerleaders as athletes in order to comply with the new law were soon disappointed. In 1975, the Office of Civil Rights resolved that cheerleading was an “extracurricular activity,” not a sport. That is, it was more like marching band than basketball.
With a range of new athletic opportunities brought about by Title IX and a changing society, girls and women began to turn away from cheerleading. In response, leaders of the emerging “spirit industry,” who sought to expand and profit from the activity, made it more athletic by encouraging the use of acrobatic stunts and tumbling. Leading the charge was Jeff Webb, a former collegiate cheerleader who, in 1974, founded the Universal Cheerleaders Association and, later, the Varsity Spirit Corporation.
Webb held his first training camp in the summer of 1975. In 1979 Varsity began selling cheerleading uniforms; in 1980 it held the first high school cheerleading championship, which ESPN broadcast in 1983. Since then, Varsity has either acquired or driven out its competitors to virtually corner the cheerleading market.
By the 1990s, cheerleaders were athletes, and Varsity was big business.
Today, Varsity Spirit is part of Varsity Brands Inc., which, among its many holdings, includes a staggering and diverse number of cheerleading and dance assets, including USA Cheer, the National Cheerleaders Association (once a rival organization), the National Dance Alliance, American Cheerleader magazine, Cheerleading.com and Varsity.tv. It hosts camps and clinics and stages cheerleading’s biggest competitions. It owns cheerleading gyms and academies around the world. It provides cheerleading insurance and coaching safety and certification courses. But Varsity’s biggest moneymaker is its uniforms and accessories division. Experts estimate it commands more than 80 percent of the market.
Varsity Brands also backs the ICU.

Follow the money?

To be clear, competitive cheerleading – the variety the ICU and related groups promote – is distinct from traditional sideline cheerleading, where supportive auxiliaries rally crowds and promote school spirit. While cheerleaders can participate in both varieties of the activity, competitive cheer focuses on contests against other squads at the local, regional, national and now international levels.
A key moment in cheerleading history came with the 2010 Biediger v. Quinnipiac University case, in which Quinnipiac volleyball players and their coach filed suit after university administrators cut their team. In place of volleyball, they promoted competitive cheerleading to varsity sport status.
At the trial, Webb took the stand as an expert witness to testify that cheerleading was not a sport. The judge agreed, deciding that “Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
Critics contend that Webb’s testimony had everything to do with Varsity’s bottom line. If cheerleading became a recognized sport, it would need to abide by regulations that limited athletes’ practice sessions and competitive seasons, just like any other sport. This would have undermined Varsity’s for-profit competitions, camps, clinics and any number of ventures in which Varsity engages. As the Houston Press pointed out:
“In one of Varsity’s 2003 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (Varsity was briefly a public company), the company stated that recognition of cheerleading as an official sport and the ensuing increased regulation ‘would likely have a material adverse affect on Varsity’s business, financial condition and results of operations.’”
Webb and his supporters countered that by disallowing sideline activities and other traditional duties, competition-only teams would ruin cheerleading as we know it. Although squads may, from time to time, compete, their primary duties are to provide support to other teams and to their respective schools.

Toward a new kind of sport

In the meantime, safety concerns have compelled the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and a number of state high school athletic federations to define cheerleading as a sport. Varsity has fought this trend. But advocates argue that sport status will provide cheerleaders with better equipment and facilities, better training for the coaches and scholastic oversight.
For these same reasons, a number of other schools, including Quinnipiac, joined together to form the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA). The organization currently boasts 17 member institutions, headed by the University of Oregon and Baylor University
NCATA officials took careful pains to divorce their sport from cheerleading. Gone are the typical uniforms, the chants and the pom-poms. The competition format and skill set are unique. The group’s website notes that acrobatics and tumbling (A&T) is “the evolution of different forms of gymnastics” that includes only “the athletic aspects of cheerleading.” With the backing of USA Gymnastics, the NCATA has since petitioned the NCAA for “emerging sport” status (like provisional recognition from the IOC, it’s not a championship sport but could become one in the future).
Not to be outdone, USA Cheer (part of Varsity Brands; tax documents show Webb as director) approached the NCAA with its own cheer-gymnastic hybrid called STUNT.
So according to Webb and his compatriots, STUNT is a sport, but cheerleading isn’t – except when it comes to the Olympics.

A slippery definition

I’m not trying to come down on one side of the debate, and I’m not arguing against cheerleading’s place on the Olympic program. But after trying to sort through the logic behind that decision, I’m a bit skeptical. Or maybe I’m just confused.
Perhaps most confusing is that the ICU is not pushing for STUNT to become an Olympic sport; it’s pushing for cheerleading, which Webb and his Varsity compatriots unfailingly maintain isn’t a sport.
It’s not clear what Olympic cheerleading competitions might look like, but the ICU’s website shows both coed and all-female divisions, with categories in team cheer, team performance cheer (with a note in the rules that stipulates “No cheers or chants allowed”) and partner and group stunts.
We might even see yet another version at the Olympic level. This is because when the ICU initially sought membership with SportAccord – a crucial step in getting official IOC recognition – the international governing body of gymnastics (F.I.G.) opposed the application on the grounds that “Cheerleading is Gymnastics and that Cheerleading is not a distinct Sport.” The ICU could only gain acceptance after its representatives signed a contract that essentially maintained “Cheer/Chant” in its original iteration and looked nothing like gymnastics. In other words, the version of cheerleading the ICU hopes to appear on the Olympic program is the same version of cheerleading Webb consistently asserts is not a sport.
So is cheerleading a sport? I guess it depends on who you ask and why you’re asking.
The IOC’s most recent decision to provisionally recognize cheer doesn’t necessarily mean we will see it at 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. But we might. And it’s too early to tell what, exactly, we’ll be cheering.
The Conversation
Jaime Schultz, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article of the day: ECHR: Swiss Muslim girls must attend mixed-sex swimming lessons

J. Rankin, ECHR: Swiss Muslim girls must attend mixed-sex swimming lesson, The Guardian (10 January 2017)

Swiss authorities did not violate right to freedom of religion in rejecting parents’ request for exemption, court rules

Switzerland has won a case at the European court of human rights over its insistence that Muslim parents send their children to mixed-sex school swimming lessons.
The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Swiss authorities had not violated the right to freedom of religion by insisting that two Muslim parents send their daughters to mixed-sex swimming lessons.
 See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/10/echr-swiss-muslim-girls-must-attend-mixed-sex-swimming-lessons for the article



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