The Olympics have been changing the sports that participate in them since their inception. There’s been a constant movement of new and different events, reflecting the popular sports of the day and age. A sport like the biathlon, where competitors cross country ski and then shoot rifles, may seem unfamiliar to many of us. Particularly when compared to something like cheerleading. However, in places where snow is more common and hunting is an important way of life, this real-world activity directly reflects that cultural and geographic differences of the nations that participate in it.
The Olympics are constantly evolving. Take a look at gymnastics. Once upon a time, gymnastics were performed on hardwood floors by almost exclusively males. Now when we think of gymnastics we think largely of the female competitors although there certainly are many male competitors still in the Olympics. They are now on a spring floor, and most of their other equipment has been modernized. The changes to gymnastics over the last 50 years have been dramatic.
One of the new sports for this year’s Olympics is skateboarding. Skateboarding has been on a journey very similar to that of competitive cheerleading. It really became a sport on its own in the 1970s. Competitive cheerleading began to be recognized in the United States in the 1980s, so it’s not a surprise that cheerleading is about a decade behind skateboarding. The Olympic committee has added sports like these because they are popular, practiced in multiple nations around the world, and have regularly performed competitions with standardized rules. The International Cheer Union, or ICU, is the global governing body of cheerleading. With 116 member nations participating, they are at the helm of the effort to have cheerleading formally recognized as an Olympic sport.
The Olympics are constantly trying to add new sports to gain more interest from younger people. That’s why skateboarding was added, and that is certainly what cheerleading is getting added as well. The Olympics can sometimes have low viewership, and its ultimate value is sports entertainment. This can be difficult to understand, as we think of it as being an opportunity for international competition. But there are already plenty of those. What the Olympics has is a certain cache: competing in the Olympics gives you a status that is not shared by simply competing in other sorts of national or international competitions. There are world championships in most sports every single year. However, we rarely hear about the winners unless you happen to be involved in that sport. But Olympic athletes can compete on the international stage with billions of eyeballs watching them, and stellar performances can make them household names.
It is important to realize that simply being recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee does not in itself mean that cheerleading will ever actually participate in the Olympics. Cheerleading has been exhibiting as a sport at the Olympics for several years now. The process for adding a new sport to the Olympics is slow and onerous. However, the consistency of the world cheerleading championship has really helped to vault cheerleading beyond something which is simply a United States sport and into one which is competed at on a high level across the world.
The ultimate goal for cheerleading is to become more than simply a competitive sport in the United States and neighboring nations. Instead, it will be a truly international contest similar to the Olympics with a world championship every year and hundreds of nations competing. This is the vision, and being recognized by the International Olympic Committee is one of the major steps in achieving that goal.