Cheerleading boasts increasing international appeal

Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:18pm EST
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ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Cheerleading, which received provisional recognition as an Olympic sport last week, is an increasingly international activity by no means restricted to its North American birthplace, according to the man who has driven its growth over four decades.

Jim Webb has helped transform cheerleading from sideline entertainment at American football and basketball games to the sport that was granted recognition by the International Olympic Committee.

Cheerleading will now be able to tap into some IOC funding and take part in a number of programs, including athlete development and anti-doping.

At the end of their three-year provisional recognition period, they can apply to become part of the Olympic Games sports program.

While cheerleading's strong youth appeal was clearly attractive to the IOC, widespread international participation is also key to taking the next steps toward a place at the Summer Games.

With over 100 national federations registered with the International Cheer Union (ICU), Webb is certain the competitiveness of the sport would not be confined to just North America.

"When we first started our world championships there was a big gap between the U.S. and Canada and now there is a lot of parity with countries from Europe and Asia that win medals and that sometimes beat the U.S. and Canadian teams," he told Reuters.

"Thailand has some great cheerleading. Japan has outstanding cheerleading. Some of the countries in Europe, Norway, Finland, Germany, the UK has outstanding cheerleading. It's developing everywhere."

The addition of cheerleading and the Thai martial art of muaythai last week takes the number of recognized Olympic sports to 37, only 28 of which were part of the program at the Rio Olympics earlier this year.   Continued...

Cheerleaders of German first division team FC Cologne perform before a Bundesliga match of their team in Cologne, western Germany, March 19, 2016.       REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay