Olympic stamp for breaking

Olympic stamp for breaking

Even breakdancers weren't too sure if their craft fit the classical definition of 'sport', but didn't mind the attention the Olympics was bringing them. DH FILE PHOTO

The next time you are at a club about to bust a move, get it as close to perfect as possible because you might just find yourself on your way to the Olympics.

As asinine as it sounds, it’s exactly what the International Olympic Committee has made provisions for by including breakdancing, or breaking, as a sport for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Historically, the modern Olympic games have given rather obscure ‘sports’ a platform at a level which, over the decades, has come to be considered the pinnacle. Tug of war, basque pelota, croquet, roque are among the events in the arcane section, but all of these now-forgotten names were only practiced at the Olympic level pre-1920. Since then, the IOC has maintained a fairly straightforward approach to which sport is included and which isn’t. Until now.

“I thought it was a joke when heard about it,” says Olympian Nisha Millet. “I remember we used to snigger at sports like sepak takraw when we would go to the Asian Games, but even they have a sporting element to it. I think it (the inclusion of breaking) dilutes the essence of the Games. I think past Olympians should be consulted before such decisions are made. “I think they forget that breakdancing is an art form, a respectable one at that, but it’s not a sport,” she adds.  Of course, one could argue that breaking is none too different - ideologically at least - from artistic gymnastics or synchronised swimming, but before scrutinising the intangibles, we should pay heed to what the IOC reckons is a ‘sport’ and the processes they observe to include a said sport into the Games.

The Olympic Charter indicates that in order to be accepted, a sport must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents. The sport must also increase the ‘value and appeal’ of the Olympic Games and retain and reflect its modern traditions. Thus, breaking.

“(laughs) I never thought of breaking as a sport,” says Malvena Briggs, an aspiring actress and a well-known B-Girl in Bengaluru. “I have been doing this for a while and I think there is a lot of talent here. But it is an art form, according to me. Still, I think this will do great things for my community.”   

The World Dance Sports Federation (WDSF) pushed for breaking’s inclusion in the Youth Olympics in 2016 and by 2018, it earned approbation from hard-lined purists (even) for energy, appeal and cultural significance, especially to the millennials.  

“We are so excited,” says Akshay, a local B-Boy. “Culturally, it has such significance. It’s also so athletic and most of us practice just like athletes do. I think breaking should be considered a sport.” 

And since Paris is the epicentre of all things alternative such as parkour, graffiti, breaking and everything else which dangles on the aglets of the hip-hop’s not-so counterculture, the Games’ organisers asked the WDSF to arrange for its inclusion.

According to some of its practitioners in the country, the discipline will be judged by the ‘Trivium Value System’ where six criteria are considered: technique, variety, performativity, musicality, creativity and personality.

“It’s a pragmatic move,” says Olympic medallist Gagan Narang. “I am in favour of newer sports coming in. Why should one draw a line when it comes to sports?! By definition of the Games, anything ‘stronger, faster and higher’ could feature in the Olympics. As a sportsperson, I would like to see more and more people get recognition for the skill they have.”

But Narang did have a concern. “…the number of medal events should not reduce. That is a grey area which meant federations will be keen to discuss and debate.”

With the inclusion of breaking, skateboarding, surfing and climbing, traditional (male-dominated) events like boxing and weightlifting have been downsized, meaning lesser medal events. While that sounds counterproductive, it works well to orchestrate IOC’s latest gender-equality drive where they are eyeing a 50-50 split in the participation of sexes.

Surely, they could have achieved this by including more women in more events actually deemed sport. Alas.

While online and conversational mockery has revolved around IOC’s ambiguity and their primitive definition of ‘sport’, many were irked that well-established and easily marketable sports like squash and cuesports are still to live an Olympic dream.

“I’m disappointed that we haven’t made it in all these years,” says Saurav Ghosal, the first Indian to be ranked junior World No 1 in squash. “We feel hard done by especially since we have such a long tradition. The issue at the heart of the whole thing is we don’t know why we’re not in. We have no closure. There is no clarity in terms of what a sport needs to be or what we need to do to be part of the Olympics.”

Geet Sethi, the Asian Games gold medallist in cuesports, has been pushing for the inclusion of his craft into the Games for close to three decades. He admittedly understands the problem but doesn’t know if there’s a definitive solution.  

“It’s all about how you lobby,” says Sethi. “We started the World Confederation of Billiards Sports (WCBS) to bring all disciplines of cuesports under one umbrella to push for a spot in the Olympics. It’s a big deal to be a part of the pinnacle of entertainment and sport, especially for a sport like cuesports.”

He continues: “I am no one to say breaking isn’t a sport. They lobbied for it and they earned their place. Good for them. I am disappointed that we haven’t been able to for so long. “Again, if we couldn’t get London (2012) to host cuesports, I don’t know how we can get Paris or any other country to host it? But I know it’s all about entertainment and the eyeballs it can grab.” 

In closing, it’s relatively easy to ascertain why the IOC has decided to include breaking, but one must also validate the feeling of resentment among those pursuing traditional sports. And as the historically disenfranchised hip-hop community gets to raise a toast to their arduous journey and bask in unfamiliar recognition, one can’t help but ask, what next? Ballet?

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