Cheerleading has just been recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an Olympic sport. So what does this really mean, and why did the Olympics finally recognize cheerleading at this time? These are important questions and worth taking a deeper look into. Let’s start with the process of how sports are recognized by the Olympic committee.
A brief explanation of the process
The organizing body of international cheer is called The International Cheerleading Union (ICU), and they have been working for almost two decades to get cheerleading recognized by the IOC as a sport. In fact, the implementation of the Cheerleading World Championship about 15 years ago was the beginning of the process to make cheerleading more than just a sport played in a single nation, and instead make it a worldwide phenomenon. As a result, there are now around 170 countries which have cheerleading as a sport, and over 70 nations are represented at the most recent Cheerleading World Championship. The international appeal of cheerleading coupled with its growth during the same time period allowed it to be recognized as an exhibition sport, a fundamental part of the process of being formally recognized by the IOC.
What is the ICU?
The International Cheer Union is the governing body for cheerleading around the world, and the governing body of the Cheerleading World Championship. It is made up of 116 different national cheer federations: the IOC recognized it as the governing body for cheerleading in 2016. When it was initially founded in 2004 the ICU was designed to standardize and promote cheerleading safety and competition standards, key elements to being officially recognized as a sport by the IOC. The president of the ICU is Jeff Webb, the same man who founded Varsity Brands and the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA).
Will cheerleading be in the 2024 Olympics?
So when will cheerleading start to compete at the Olympics? This is a very good question and one to which there is no definite answer. It’s not going to happen this year, as cheerleading was only recently recognized as a sport, while the Tokyo Olympics have already started. Because Olympic preparations normally begin at least four years in advance, it seems unlikely that cheerleading would participate as a recognized sport in the 2024 Olympics. In a recent interview Jeff Webb, founder and president of the ICU suggested that the 2028 Olympics, in Los Angeles, California, is where cheer is most likely to debut as an Olympic sport.
Why is this important for international cheerleading?
Having the Olympics potentially host games for cheerleading is very exciting. Recognition by the Olympic committee is very important, but the reasons are not immediately obvious to American participants in the sport. In the United States, where cheerleading is well established, it will not actually make that much of a difference in the next four to eight years. Only when cheerleading starts competing in the Olympics will we really see a big uptick and participation. However, internationally this is a very important development. In many nations, sports are funded and controlled by the government. And those governments often will not support sports which are not recognized as athletic contests by the international Olympic Committee. In many countries, athletes are trained under government facilities, by government coaches. It costs nothing to them individually to participate in the sport: all costs are covered by the government. By having cheerleading recognized as a sport, government bodies can now fund cheerleading in countries outside of the U.S. That is the most important development from this recognition by the IOC: now there will be money available for cheerleading from independent nations. As a result, many international cheer programs which have been held back by a lack of funding can now get full recognition by their home nations. This will expand cheerleading even more, making it more competitive with greater participation worldwide.