In the modern world, sports entertainment and branding are nearly impossible to separate. For every baseball game, there's a sponsor. For every car race, you'll be hard-pressed to find a car that isn't plastered in some sort of branding. Moreso every day, we now see public figures, athletes, and pop stars building personal brands that tend to heavily interact with corporations, through sponsorship, promotions, and advertisement. For this reason, we have to treat all individual athletes as both people, and as personal brands. Some people have strong feelings towards athletes who decide to be sponsored by certain brands. We have all heard the term “sell out” at least once in our lives referring to singers, athletes, or actors choosing to work with a certain person or company. What is selling out though, and how does it affect people's perspective of you? The act of “Selling Out” is generally thought of as compromising one's morals, integrity, authenticity, or principals in exchange for personal gain, such as money, power, or popularity. When we feel like an athlete is selling out, how should we respond to that, especially if they are our personal friends?
FIG, Otherwise known as Federation Internationale Gymnastique, is the international governing body of gymnastics. They are also currently attempting to be the international governing body of parkour, and have already succeeded in being the official organizer of Parkour in the Olympic committee. FIG has shown that their interest in parkour is simply to assimilate it with gymnastics, and they frequently claim that the two are akin, if not identical. Gymnastics has been steadily decreasing in popularity, and parkour continues to become more and more popular, especially with young people. They believe that by using the name parkour and applying it to their sport they will be able to cash in on the name while changing the actual sport to best fit their agenda. To do this they have set rules and regulations for parkour competitions by working with big-name athletes and a few parkour companies.
A popular comparison nowadays in parkour, is FIG and Red Bull. Red Bull has hosted ‘The Art of Motion’ for 10 years (2007 - 2017). Art of Motion is a freestyle freerunning competition, hosted by the energy drink giant, Red Bull. People have taken issue with this competition because the format fails to represent many aspects of the sport. Red Bull has made it clear that they are only interested in running a competition and in sponsoring a few select athletes, and that is where they greatly differ from FIG. While at this point FIG has been mainly focused on their competitions, they have made it clear that they plan to function as a governing body for parkour on an international level. As a governing body, FIG could decide what is, and what is not viewed as parkour on a large level of the general populous. FIG also could, and very likely will set standards for gym design, coaching standards, and international competition standards, that will only align with their skewed view of parkour. If that doesn't scare you enough, one of their early steps will very likely be to decide upon an international set of standardized obstacles, for gym and competition use.
FIG has already held a couple of competitions, including the FISE World Cup, and the Hiroshima Cup. Several big-name athletes have already aligned themselves with FIG through competing at their events. Athletes that include Pasha ‘The Boss’ Petkuns, Pedro Salgado, Jesse Peveril, Kamil Tobiasz, Zen Shimada, Aleksandra ‘Sasha Sheva’ Shevchenko, and others. FIG has assembled some sort of board to make decisions regarding how their organization handles parkour, and they have included a couple of these top level athletes on that board, including Sasha Sheva and Kamil Tobiasz. A large part of the community has been very vocal when expressing their lack of support for FIG, and it has raised the controversial question of how to interact with these athletes who are now affiliated with an organization that we feel threatened by. Several community leaders have loudly stated that they do not agree with the political decisions made by these athletes, and will not support these athletes through social media, or even potentially in business deals. Others in the community have responded to this by saying that it simply propagates division in our community, and that FIG will take advantage of that division more than anything else.
While nearly everyone agrees that blacklisting athletes is a bad thing and that it creates unnecessary division within the community, how far is too far? The problem may come from the fact that we continue to talk about these athletes as people. They are our friends, our training mates, and our coaches. Politically these athletes aren't people though, they’re brands. Choosing to not buy their product, watch their video, or follow them on social media is a valid decision, just as it would be when boycotting any other brand. We cannot let our personal friendships dictate our political opinions. If you don’t believe in the actions a brand is taking, protesting their products, be they physical or digital, is an acceptable thing to do.
Will FIG actually destroy our sport? Maybe, maybe not, but standing by idly, letting them do whatever they wish, is not only lazy, it’s actively siding with them by allowing them free reign over the sport that we love. We do know that FIG has every intention of profiting off of parkour to the maximum amount they possibly can, and they do not plan to involve the community in the majority of decisions they make. In the end, it's important to have your own convictions and to live by them. Do research and make sure you have your facts straight. Don’t allow people on social media dictate how you live your life.