Cheerleading Meets Olympic Standards to Become a Sport

Photo courtesy of Vice Sports: The IOC has officially recognized cheerleading as a sport.

For millions of previously unrecognized athletes, there was reason to cheer this past December. On December 6th, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognized cheerleading as a sport. With this recognition, many previously existing contentions and debates about the degree of athletics required by cheerleading have been settled. In point, the International Cheer Union will now be funded by the Olympics to become better developed worldwide, and there is an opportunity for cheerleading to be added to the Olympics in the future.

In the world of sports, competitive cheerleading may seem obscure, especially compared to other activities featured in the Olympics. However, it’s recognition was justified by surprising prominence and legitimacy as a sport that most people aren’t aware of. In order to gain the official approval, it had to meet qualifications set by the IOC, including being organized in over 50 countries, holding international competitions, and having a sport governing body. From a long history of development, cheerleading has come to embody these qualifications with the existence of an International Cheer Union (ICU), national and international competitions, and around 4.5 million registered athletes. Its participants perform dangerous stunts and feats that require repetitive athletic training and are comparable to feats of competitive gymnasts.

Many people, including MHS varsity cheerleading coach Lisa Ferraro, see the recognition as long overdue for cheerleaders who deserve the same athletic status that gymnastics enjoy. In an email interview with The Globe, Ferraro described the demands of competitive cheer as “a multidisciplinary skill set which includes gymnastics, stunting, and dance.” She continued, “Cheerleaders are themselves athletes who work extremely hard to be successful. This marks a moment of validation for all their hard-work as athletes allowing them to now be both supportive and supported.”

Anyone familiar with the long history of cheerleading’s development would likely consider this event to be one of the biggest victories ever for the sport. Starting in the early 1900s as an all-men’s activity to show college school spirit, cheerleading has become increasingly athletic and come to establish an existence outside of school environments. Cheering first became revolutionized in the 40s, when more women joined in due to men leaving college to fight in the war. Afterwards, the addition of stunts and acrobatics led to the development of “all-star cheerleading” in the 80s, which is the foundation for competitive cheer today. It focuses on developing teams to compete athletically, and moves away, sometimes excluding, the original focus of school spirit.

Even as the first international competition was held in 2004 by the ICU, cheerleading faced obstacles in society to gain status as a sport. Developments in pop culture brought cheerleading into a new light by adding elements of gender exclusivity, and creating character stereotypes that were further enforced in movies and books. As cheerleading came to exist in these contexts, people lost awareness of its athletic side. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that Title IX, the federal law maintaining gender equality in college athletics, wouldn’t apply to cheerleaders at Quinnipiac University- the case was that it was too underdeveloped to qualify as a sport. Overall, much of cheerleading’s development towards athletics was overshadowed by new standards bringing it back down to simply a function of school spirit.

All of these past obstacles have made the recent recognition an even bigger win for athletes and coaches, in larger ways than simply the benefits offered by the IOC. “Historically cheerleading has been viewed as a group that supports other athletes in their goals to win,” says Coach Ferraro. Going forwards, the hope is that the athletes on the sidelines will be seen equally to those on the field. With the qualification into the world of sports, and the chance to see a future in the Olympics, competitive cheer may finally be able to stand on its own, seen for what it really is.

By Leah Roffman

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