Sport. ‘An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’ One of the most debated topics around this definition is whether Cheerleading falls under the category.
The main crux is the fact that the origin of cheerleading is in entertainment on the sidelines of sporting events.
97% of cheerleaders are female but cheerleading began as an all-male activity at Princeton University. In 1897 the University football officials wanted to begin organised cheering for the football teams and appointed ‘cheer leaders’.
It wasn’t until World War II that women began dominating the sport as men were away. This was the point where the elements that are recognised today came into play; gymnastics, tumbling and pyramids.
As cheerleading began to become more popular, negative stereotypes ensued. Films began portraying cheerleaders as being centred around popularity, vanity and pettiness which further took away its credibility as something to be taken seriously and much further away from it being seen as a sport. It was used as a demeaning personality trait and the non-cheerleaders in these films were often the superior counterparts and certainly more intelligent.
The largest step to cheerleading being accepted was in July 2021 where the International Olympic Committee “voted in favour of granting full recognition to the International Cheer Union (ICU) and cheerleading, making one of America’s oldest examples of teamwork eligible to apply to be included in the Olympics program.”
The sports for the 2024 Olympic games in Paris had already been approved meaning 2028 Games in Los Angeles will be the first possibility for the debut. With America being the founders of the sport, many believe if it’s going to debut it will be at this Olympics.
Although the Olympics have accepted it other major organisations haven’t. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) does not have cheerleading in the category of sport, and it has a long way to go before it is globally seen as a sport by the general public.
Regardless of what organisation defines cheerleading as there is no doubt that the people involved are athletes. They train at a competitive level learning difficult skills and abilities not dissimilar to gymnastics, a recognised sport.
President of the Cheerleading Club Rebecca Leiper said: “I would say that cheer is definitely not recognised as a sport by a wide range of people and a lot of people don’t actually understand what it is that we do.
“When you mention cheerleading a lot of people think you mean you stand at the side of a pitch with pom poms and sing chants when actually our style of cheerleading is so much more than that.
“We incorporate the best of dance and gymnastics and it takes real strength and stamina to be successful
“Our club sometimes feels like people within the university don’t recognise us as a sport and sometimes we are slightly unrecognised as a club unfortunately.”
Whilst difficult to define, the development of cheerleading is clearly important. It has allowed women to not have to choose between femininity and athleticism, but they can be fused and be taken seriously.
Cheerleading changed the game from being quite literally side-lined to being competitive and tough with incredibly high standards. It’s growing and with the potential to be on the global stage at the Olympics, opinions may sway. Until then, it’s still an uphill climb.
Featured Image Credit: Zoe Watt
Film, Media and Journalism student who writes about things that catch her interest. Instagram @charlsutcliffe
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