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Parkour Earth and the FIG Fiasco

Since 2016, the International Federation of Gymnastics, better known as FIG, has been making efforts to position themselves as the sole governance of parkour worldwide. These efforts are rooted in FIG’s inability to retain new, young students, as many young people express their desire to deviate from the rigid and militaristic discipline of gymnastics. FIG has been largely successful, despite the public outcry of many in the parkour community. Even the impassioned rally cry, “fuck FIG,” has done little to assuage our fears that the sport may be forever altered by this Goliath. Thankfully, there is an organization taking a stand against the boogeyman that is FIG and working towards true independence for our sport. I am of course speaking of Parkour Earth. But, before we get into the good that Parkour Earth is doing, we have to speak on the potential damage that FIG is doing to the culture of parkour.


After the most recent FIG events in Tokyo, the hive mind of parkour is erupting with vitriol for both the entity itself, and the competition formats and rules which are seen as wildly unnecessary and out of line with the spirit of parkour. Some of these rules include a requirement of three steps or less between skills, which brought us insane roly-poly runs consisting of exclusively forward rolls and double fulls; and a rule making off-axis skills worth far less than overhead gymnastic-based techniques. The approach that FIG has taken towards competition has been almost universally panned, and even Marc Busch of Ashigaru stated in an Instagram story, “The FIG is probably not going to change. Many people have tried to talk with them and change things in the past, realized it isn’t going to happen, and then no longer attended events or even left the FIG when working for them before. Of course, it’s tempting to go, because the prize money is higher than any other similar event. But it isn’t parkour. They’re calling it the “World Parkour Championships,” which is just a lie. Call it freestyle gymnastics, or urban butt-rolling. But stop claiming parkour to be yours. Yes, we need our own parkour federation, with actual world championships and qualified judges. Parkour Earth is already working on that. It’s a process and needs time and funding as well, but I’m very optimistic it will work out if we do the right moves.” 


Despite this position being fairly common amongst members of the community, there are of course those who see these competitions as an opportunity. FIG has the benefit of being a large, established corporation with corporate sponsors and the potential to throw their money around. There are even parkour people involved in the administration of these competitions, and attempting to do the right things on behalf of the participants. I spoke with Jarrod Luty who took part in the Tokyo Championship, and he had this to say: “I thought the competition was fun to watch and participate in but flawed in a lot of areas. Obviously, the judging criteria for freestyle needs to be fixed so we don’t see a line with 3/4 skills and 20+ transition moves. That’s not what we do and misinterprets the sport of parkour in a rather boring way. And the speed course could be completed by someone with 0 parkour experience. It’s really who is really fast and has the stamina to finish with the same intensity as they started. We did have an athlete meeting and they asked us what we liked/disliked about the comp so they could fix it to be better. That was what I liked most about it. So hopefully they will listen to us and show what true parkour is. But if they do make changes, it won’t be until 2024 so we’ll probably see a few more bad competitions before then.” Gymnastics has had this approach for years, sticking to a set of designated rules for years, and only changing them the year after an Olympics takes place. This doesn’t bode well for FIG, as the community is already up in arms about their competitions, and two years of the same is not likely to change the hearts or minds of the practitioners who see these events as a blight on parkour. 


The light at the end of the tunnel is Parkour Earth. This organization is seeking to be the base of parkour governance worldwide and provide services to parkour that are true to the sport’s foundations and philosophy, while growing out of the community itself. This is a grassroots effort to give us power over our grassroots sport, and that is a goal that is to be respected. I had the opportunity to sit down with John “Hedge” Hall, part of the administration of Parkour Earth, and discuss their ongoing pursuit of parkour independence.


Me: What steps are you taking to establish yourselves as parkour’s governing body? 


Hedge: In 2017, Parkour Earth was established when six separate national parkour governing entities came together to establish an international governing body. Which really is the only way in which an international governance can be founded. Since then, Parkour Earth has gone through a really interesting journey; where it’s been trying to figure out what an ethical, authentic, international body for parkour would look like; while at the same time, taking steps to make sure that as many people as possible have their practices protected and can continue training the way they’ve always wanted to train. The steps we’re taking first and foremost have been very procedural, but really boils down to generating a constitution, a business model, and building the back end of a corporate organization that spans many countries and putting in protections so that it can’t be mistreated and can be looked after properly. Then, about 18 months ago Parkour Earth hired new staff, with the expectation of becoming a lot more community facing. So, while all this great back-end work was being done, we still felt like the parkour community wasn’t being brought along as much as we wanted them to be. We began a process of trying to understand what the community wants and needs, and we tried to become an entity that was representative of parkour practitioners. 


That’s the preamble, but let’s talk about what we’re actually doing. We’ve started recruiting national bodies. We have 12 members, all of whom are national parkour-governing bodies recognized in their own country. We are trying to recruit more, and as we find national bodies who meet the basic ability to govern the sport in their location, we try to bring them on and guide them through the process of becoming nationally recognized. In places which don’t have organizations in place, we’re encouraging people to nationalize. We had a really great success story in Spain, where there is a new national body called Pepadd (@pepadd_) who were set up with our support, and they are new members of Parkour Earth. What we’re doing there is trying to help people from those communities form bodies themselves that are representative of what they want to do. We’re going through this high-level international process, but at the same time we’re trying to reach actual parkour people. To do that, we’re trying something called the Ambassador Program, which we’re building now. The first part of the program is finding people who are authentically “parkour” and have a voice in the community and recruiting them to be ambassadors for Parkour Earth. Their job being to communicate to the community what Parkour Earth is doing, and on the flipside, to communicate to us what the community wants. 


The parkour community is this incredibly diverse thing which rarely agrees about anything. It’s quite a beautiful part of the parkour world. So, we at Parkour Earth wanted to reflect that. We’re building something that can be a home for parkour, which in some ways is a home for people arguing about parkour. And finally, we’re trying to do good. One of the things that I’ve been brought on board to do is to begin a business model for Parkour Earth, and that business model is really about moving money around in a positive way. The first active effect we’re trying to have, is through paying parkour photographers. We’re paying parkour photographers a fair amount of money for their photographs and making them available for use by our various member organizations. 


Me: I can’t imagine walking the tightrope of corporate entity and grassroots community outreach, it’s a lot to take on. What are the main obstacles in your way?


Hedge: The first major obstacle in the way is the fact that, when it comes to the hierarchy of how important these things are to parkour athletes, the more local it is, the more important people find it to be. Which is a wonderful thing, parkour people are invested in their own communities first, and are grassroots focused. So, there aren’t that many people willing to take time away from looking after their own communities, their businesses, gyms, or brands, in order to contribute to Parkour Earth’s growth. And yet, there are moments like we’re seeing now with FIG Championships, where people want an international place to have that dialogue and discuss these things going on. During those moments we can really shine, and when asked what we’ve been up to for the past year, we can point to these things. Finding people who want to work and put that effort in voluntarily on the longer term, that’s the most major challenge. Another one is building from a voluntary network into something that can pay for people to do this full time, because there’s so much work to do. There are so many things we could be doing and so much support we could be providing, which we simply can’t because we don’t have the budget. So, it’s about understanding what an ethical business model looks like, because again, it’s not particularly hard to get money if you go down the route of being supported by questionable businesses or governments, but we don’t want to go there. We want to be representative of the community, and we don’t want to sell our soul. But what does that look like? How does that work? How do you go about that in a way that functions and is still representative of the parkour community? These are the questions we’ve been answering.


Me: What is Parkour Earth’s position regarding FIG, seeing as you both are vying to occupy the same role? 


Hedge: The International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG), has undertaken what is described as “encroaching” upon Parkour. It has illegally claimed the ‘right’ to govern Parkour. The encroachment is in breach of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) rules, yet it seems that it is being encouraged by the IOC to do this. It offends best practice recommendations of the IOC and yet the encroachment has apparently been sanctioned without question. A simple review of the FIG Statutes also highlights and confirms the illegality of this action, but FIG conveniently elects to ignore this. It simply maintains that it can, and continues to do, as it pleases and regrettably, no one is questioning or challenging its actions. In theory the IOC should say, “Hey! Stop! What you are doing is neither ethical or legitimate”, but it doesn’t. We should have the right to challenge FIG and say “Hey, you aren’t doing right by our sport. Stop.” But FIG and the IOC simply chose to ignore all and any representation from our community. We know that FIG’s annexation is unjustified and illegal, and we’re exploring different avenues to stop it. However, the only recourse to secure our sovereignty and autonomy is to embark on legal action, but legal action is expensive. Establishing the route to block FIG, is going to come down to federating on a global basis to build something that is much better for the community and our sport.

Me: What are the potential consequences if FIG is left to their own devices?


Hedge: If left unchecked, it has major implications for all those in the sphere of parkour. Obviously, the athletes want to build competitions, the coaches want to coach without having to go through terrible processes. It affects a large portion of the community in very different ways. So, for those who are working in parkour day in and day out, FIG’s attempt to takeover is going to affect your livelihood, and your way of life. If you want to build something that’s really yours, come and work with us to create that. 


Me: There have been other unification efforts in the past. What makes Parkour Earth different from organizations like WFPF, what national entities have been involved so far?


Hedge: Parkour Earth is without a doubt representing more athletes than any other organization has ever claimed before. The United States Parkour Association is a member, as is Parkour UK, as is the Finnish Parkour Association, which is easily the largest in the world, the Australian Parkour Association, the Czechs, the French, Africans, Polish, Swiss, and Spanish. With all of those places, we’re talking about representing hundreds-of-thousands of athletes. We have a legitimate claim to representing a large swathe of the community. So, in that regard, we think we’re doing quite well, and we think we’re in fairly early days. We’re still starting things, and we still think this is a long process, and one in which as we get better at it, we’re going to continue to expand. How we’re different is, for one, we’ve been around for quite a few years now and we aren’t going anywhere. Parkour Earth has an invested ability to keep going because all of these national bodies have very long-term plans. USPK, Parkour UK, these organizations are going to be around in ten-years' time, and so is Parkour Earth. Parkour Earth has that built in legitimacy and longevity about it. When it comes to others, WFPF is a private company, as is IPF, and all the structures around them. We have had some discussions with them, but at the end of the day they are doing private business work that doesn’t have anything to do with local or international governance, they’re just using it as a tagline to sell clothes. Then, every other body that does seem to be legitimate, that does seem to be representing people, we have some level of conversation with. There are places that haven’t joined us yet because they’re still working themselves through, like Parkour Serbia, another huge community, who aren’t sure if they meet the relative criteria and don’t know what they want to do next. There are organizations like Parkour India, where technically the governing body consists of one guy who got there first, but actually the international governance is done by this other group who are working towards building the correct system. And the fact that parkour is just young. There’s no clever way to put it. In the majority of the world, parkour isn’t very well organized yet, and Parkour Earth sees its job as shepherding parkour through this difficult period so that we can self-organize in a way that is positive and grassroots based. Sometimes that’s slow, it’s annoying, it doesn’t work as well as we want, we have to stop and answer difficult questions, but we’re ready to do that, and we’re doing that. 


Me: What are Parkour Earth’s goals for the future of the sport? 


Hedge: Parkour Earth’s work right now falls into distinct bands. One is research projects. The CEO right now is predominantly working on the Competition Research Project. The goal is to get a snapshot of what competition looks like all around the world. To dial back slightly on the complicated problem of competition in parkour, functionally a large part of the world is very pro-competition, and a large part of the world is very anti-competition, so Parkour Earth is taking the view that we want to empower those who choose to do things. We hope that competition hosts will feel empowered to create what they want. Specifically, what we don’t want is for people who are against competition to be forced to create things. Within that space, we’re doing a research project to discover the state of competition around the world, find key players, make sure we know who is generating competitions and where they’re growing and talk with them. We just launched that initiative on Instagram, so if you want to contribute, you can find the link in our bio, it’s also on our website and in our Discord. We’re looking to understand as many competitions, their rules, and formats as we can. That’s hopefully going to snowball into recommendations. So, USPK have created their competition rulebook which provides recommendations on how competitions should be run, other organizations are doing similar things. We’re hoping to build “best practice” guidelines so that hopefully one day national and international competitions can be generated following best practice rules built by the community itself. 


The second thing we’re doing is business development, which is what I mostly do. What we’re doing there is building our reach and getting more people to contribute. Our model is very simple, it’s Patreon. So, people can contribute a little bit of money and then we spend it on the parkour community. Now we’re buying photographs, we want to pay parkour creatives in all different spheres, invest in interesting events and projects all over the world. Whatever parkour people are creating, we want to support it. As part of the building capacity, we’re also trying to recruit people. We want more people to become involved. We don’t want Parkour Earth to seem like a handful of people in an ivory tower, we want people in the community proudly saying, “I am Parkour Earth.” The more people get involved, the better. We’re about to undergo a pretty strong recruitment process to build as many ambassadors for Parkour Earth as we can. We want to be an organization that spans the entire world, and so we need people from all over the world. There’s a number of reasons why that’s important. First of all, because it means that we’re representing more people. Second, national governing bodies haven’t been formed everywhere, and so the ambassadors become that first step to engaging with communities. The third is that it’s a very simple way of translating. I mean we’re talking in English right now, blogs are written in English, etc. But parkour is happening in countries all over the world, many of which don’t have strong English skills, and to communicate with them, we need to find ambassadors who can. 


Me: One of the main draws of FIG lies in their capability to provide a consistent circuit of paying competitions, flawed as they might be. Do you have any hopes of providing a similar experience for competitive athletes?


Hedge: The first thing I’d like to point out is that we’re already at a point where FIG isn’t spending money on paying people for competitions. The Tokyo gymnastics event wasn’t a paid event. You’re going to find that, while FIG will do a bit of initial payment up front, that won’t last, and they’ll take advantage of you any way they can. That being said, sustainable investment in developing competitive structures really boils down to what’s being created and how they go about doing it. We think, even in the more ethical models such as the West Coast Parkour Championships or World Chase Tag, paying athletes to compete is quite a difficult thing to work out because it’s very expensive. Figuring out ways to do that ethically is something that Parkour Earth would love to be a part of. We want to figure out what the community wants. From my perspective I think it’s important that good, ethical treatment of people gets built in early, because the vast majority of the ways in which competitive structures are built in the sporting world takes advantage of athletes. We want to do better. 


Me: What is your approach to education and certification for aspiring coaches looking to legitimize their career?


Hedge: One of the projects that I’m wanting to take on in 2022-23, is to build some kind of tick mark for coaching certifications which we feel meet a certain standard and should be recognized for our members. Which is the first step towards international standardization. You’ll find in most sports that certification occurs at the national level, and then the international body will allow some level of inter-recognition, which I would love to do. I don’t know if it’ll happen overnight, I think it’ll be sort of a two-step process where we say, these are legitimate parkour certifications, and these are what our members will recognize. So there will be two tiers there. It’s a very complicated industry, but mostly, certification boils down to insurance. How that applies in different countries varies massively. You have the big public liability countries, specifically the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland. These are countries in which you must have liability insurance in case of XYZ scenario. In a lot of the rest of the world, that isn’t the case. In many places it’s just about best practice, and showing that you have some level of certification, it makes it much easier to start these things. For the big public liability countries, it’s about making sure those internal processes work, and then building a body of evidence to show that those with certifications have lower injury rates and are safer. So that’s what’s happening in the US and the UK. In other countries it’s about keeping them to a standard and that knowledge disseminates, which I think is about translation more than anything else. That we’re building things that can be translated into other languages and be checked by our ambassador team to make sure that they are meeting expected standards of safety, appropriateness, and authenticity. There are plenty of certifications out there which are not made by parkour people, and aren’t very good. We should be able to recognize the ones which are made by our community and are authentically parkour. 


Me: Are there any messages you’d like to convey to the parkour community?


Hedge: I have spent the last 18 months turning Parkour Earth into a vehicle that can be driven by parkour people. If they pick it up, it will run. It has everything in place so that parkour people can drive this. What it needs is engagement, it needs people rallying around it and saying, “This is what we want to do.” That’s what I want. I want people to join in, tell me what they want to achieve and then I want to get like-minded people together and make things happen. 


Me: What can people do to support your efforts?


Hedge: I really have three calls to action. The first one, is that if you are a member of the parkour community and interested in contributing to Parkour Earth, and you want to build awareness, it’s about getting involved in conversations on Instagram, sharing your opinions, and tagging Parkour Earth. If you want to contribute, do what parkour people do, and talk about Parkour Earth. Make understood that this is a potential home for parkour and one that will behave appropriately. If you want to do more than that, you can go to Parkour.Earth and join our Discord, or even reach out to me by email and I will respond. You can join the conversation, volunteer to help us, even provide work if you have the capacity to do so. If you don’t have the capacity to donate your time, but you have some level of funding, we’d love for you to support the Parkour Earth Supporters Initiative. That money is being paid right back into the community. We are buying photographs from parkour photographers, making them available to our members, then once we’ve done that, we’re going to start investing into other parts of the artistic parkour experience, and we want to be guided by our supporters on what that looks like. I think that’s going to be things like the Motus Film Festival, we would have loved to be a sponsor of that. We would love to help set up parkour events, and become a sponsor of those events, providing t-shirts, flyers, etc. but to do that we need more funding, and if you would be willing to pay us $1.50 per month to do that, you can. If you want to contribute, you can go to www.parkour.earth/individuals, or you just go to patreon.com/parkourearth.

Parkour is in dire need of a foundational organization to give us a voice on the world stage of sports and artistic disciplines. Parkour Earth is the backbone that the community needs right now. The staying power of a worldwide network of practitioners, coaches, brand owners, and creators is significantly better than the disparate communities of ragtag curb jumpers that are currently shouting “fuck FIG” into the aether. Parkour is becoming something much larger than the sum of its parts, and people, even the wrong people, have taken notice. Let’s not let them get their grubby hands on our sport. Put your money, your time, or your social media where your mouth is, and help build something for the greater good of parkour.