Urban sports, between Olympic integration and preserved identity

Twenty-five years. The maturity that settles, and the full form that rides. In Montpellier, the International Extreme Sports Festival (Fise) celebrates its quarter century of existence from this Wednesday, May 25 with drums and trumpets: 600,000 spectators are expected on the banks of the Lez to watch nearly 2,000 “riders” BMX, skateboard and scooter specialists (Read below)

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Acrobatics of all kinds, music at top speed, but also high-flying performances, the Fise in all its splendor, forerunner of the development of these other sports, also called “alternative”, “urban”, even “action sports”. Disciplines born on the street or on playgrounds other than traditional sports, which first claim a lifestyle and the absence of executives, but have moved closer to the sports movement for several years, until the recent integration of some of them into the Olympics, such as skateboarding and BMX in Tokyo, “breaking” soon in Paris.

A new youth for the Olympic movement

The Fise is in this evolution for a reason. The founder of the festival, Hervé André-Benoit, is one of the most important architects and one of its best advocates. “For years, Fise and these sports have grown up in almost general indifference, he says. We were the rebels, disorganized, caricatural riders for the sports authorities. We had to professionalize to become credible, especially with sponsors and the media. †

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Twenty years later, urban sports are following the same path as the sliding sports that emerged in the late 1980s, windsurfing, surfing, snowboarding. Disciplines that mainly advocate freedom and pleasure, far from competitions and outspoken practices. But that the Olympic movement rushed back into its fold in the 1990s. “And it is an inevitable phenomenon, judge sociologist Thomas Riffaud, who went from shy kid on the fringes of skate parks to champion roller skating on professional stages. Sports appear on the edge, but most don’t stay there. These are movements that experience a “sportification” with the establishment of understandable rules, essential to interest the general public and go beyond the community framework. †

Keeping an alternative culture alive

As of 2014, international federations and the International Olympic Committee took a closer look at these whirlwind urban sports. “Traditional sports bodies obey a genuine desire for rejuvenation, notes Hervé André-Benoit. It is clear that almost one in two children today participate in these sports. We cannot ignore them. † For the creator of Fise, skateboarding and BMX at the Games are pioneers. “In skate parks today 40% of practitioners are on scooters, he continues. and parkour (a type of gymnastics consisting of overcoming obstacles in an urban environment, editor’s note) explodes. These two disciplines have their place for me at the Los Angeles Games in 2028 and Brisbane in 2032, two cities that are very focused on urban sports. †

However, this incorporation by the dominant model is still the subject of heated debate within the communities involved. The risk of losing your soul, watering yourself in the big Olympic pool? Eternal debate. “For example, if we look at the evolution of surfing, we realize that there are now two populations that have nothing in common: seasoned athletes and surfers who have lost control, always looking for the ultimate wave. , commentary Thomas Riffaud. Urban sports are now at a pivotal stage, with riders from both trends still coexisting. The Fise also sails on this crest line, with competitions, of course, but to maintain a living alternative culture. †

For Hervé André-Benoit it is indeed a matter of pushing “a regulated practice, especially within skate park academies, because a frame is something that reassures parents, but also to practice freely, because it is our DNA”† A big gap that inevitably raises the question of the calibrated spectacle, especially for the Games. “You have to know what you admit or not in the process of Olympic normalization, emphasizes Thomas Riffaud. Be careful not to expose riders who may not be athletes yet, and not to offer competitions that are too smooth, thus erasing the lavish spectacle of our disciplines, as was previously the case in Tokyo. † In short, a matter of balance. But isn’t this the privilege of aerobatics?

Seven disciplines on the program

From 25 to 29 May, seven disciplines are on the program of the International Festival of Extreme Sports (Fise).

Three are Olympic: BMX freestyle park and skateboarding present in Tokyo, and breaking (or breakdance) which will make their debut in Paris in 2024.

The other four are inline skating, scootering, parkour and BMX flatland, which consists of chain tricks on your bike without disassembling. The Fise has forged partnerships with certain international federations, such as the International Cycling Union or the International Gymnastics Federation, which allow the festival to host the BMX and Parkour World Cup stages in particular.