As of mid-January 2017, The United Kingdom has become the first nation to recognize Parkour as a sport. Parkour, also known as art du deplacement, or freerunning, originated in France during the late 1980s. Parkour is a form of metropolitan acrobatics. The practice of the sport involves running, climbing and leaping through urban areas using only the natural strength of one’s body. At its very core, parkour involves an intense, creative and intuitive connection with the surroundings – a personal and up-close feel of the city.
YouTube video of experienced traceurs
All five UK sports councils, including Sport England, has now recognized parkour as an official sport, describing it as the discipline of moving “freely over and through any terrain using only the abilities of the body”. The acceptance of Parkour as sport has several consequences. On a practical level in the UK, this means that organizations such as Parkour UK (The governing body of Parkour in the UK) can apply for government grants and National Lottery funding on equal standing with other sports. Parkour could also be implemented in school and youth sports programs. Looking beyond the borders of the UK, gaining recognition as a sport can very well affect the reputation and prestige for ‘traceurs’ internationally.
YouTube-video of Kids doing Parkour
The emergence of new sports and sporting activities such as parkour is an interesting topic of study for sports scholars. When new activities develop, it challenges our perception of what sport is and what it should and should not be. This is interesting on its own because it reflects how modern sport changes alongside society. Furthermore, it involves a compelling field for innovation studies. Sport innovation involves the creation of something new, which can be in the form of an idea, skill, product, process, service or technology. Sport innovation helps improve individual performance, organizational effectiveness and society well-being.
I recently wrote a chapter on ‘Innovation for Social Inclusion” in a new book on ‘Sport Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ where I argued that one of the main assets and hidden resources of sport innovation is related to social innovations as expressed through emergence of new sports. In my opinion, this is particularly relevant to sport innovation as improvements of society well-being. Social inequality and exclusion remains a painful and troublesome challenge in modern sport. Sport is not freely available for all. Moreover, modern sport does not appeal to everyone. An exciting part of the emergence of new sports is their potential to bridge gaps between societal groups (contributing to a more socially inclusive sports movement) and appeal to inactive people not previously engaged in sport.
After the recognition of parkour as an official sport, Phil Smith, the director of Sport England stated that “Parkour has already been offering something different for a few years now”, implying that the development of parkour brings something new and innovation to sport in the UK. Additionally, Parkour UK is actively promoting that the practice of the sport is for everyone, independent of age and disabilities. Moreover, parkour does not require any special stadium or area. It can be practiced in any environment. Central to parkour is playfulness and personal growth. The practice of parkour is still relatively free from pressures of competition and commodification, which is common in sport. However, now that parkour has gained this official recognition, it remains to be seen if the sport will be able to keep its unique characteristics, or if it will be increasingly standardized and commodified to adapt to the standards of more traditional sports.
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Spaaij, R., Magee, J. & Jeanes, R. (2015). Sport and Social Exclusion in Global Society. London: Routledge
Tjønndal, A. (2016). Innovation for Social Inclusion in Sport. In V.Ratten & J.Ferreira (eds.). Sport Entrepreneurship and Innovation. London: Routledge