Open letter to the parkour athletes (and to the community)
We all have dreams. Dreams of glory or riches, as well as dreams of adventure, of accomplishment, of acknowledgement, and much more. Those dreams are an incredible strength—as well as a serious vulnerability. All it takes is someone playing cleverly enough on those strings, and even those who are most firmly rooted in their beliefs can be persuaded to abandon their principles and dance along.
For those who don’t know the context: parkour is developing quietly at the moment, taking on challenges along the way as any nascent discipline has to do. Parkour is creating its own experience, and its evolution is guided by the community.
But in the last year, a new actor has appeared: the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) . Its resources are huge, enough to short-circuit all the patient initiatives of parkour enthusiasts, enough to trample on what the tracers think, even enough to offer incredible opportunities that are increasingly hard for the biggest names to refuse.
I will first express how I understand the athletes that choose to participate in such FIG-sponsored events. Then I’ll explain why I still think it’s a dangerous game for our discipline: there may be some very relevant factors that we nevertheless fail to discuss. In a last part, I’ll suggest a few ways we can react to these events.
This letter is addressed in particular to the athletes about to compete in the FIG competition in Montpellier  in a few days. I want to make it especially compassionate, as I could find myself heeding the siren’s call someday, yielding to this temptation I’m criticizing. Don’t worry, I won’t pour out my thoughts on the subject of competition (despite having strong opinions on it  ): it’s your choice and only yours.
The main issue with this peculiar competition is that it’s orchestrated by the gymnastics federation. Here again, I understand your choice. If I were in your shoes, the decision would have been hard to make. Virtues are all well and good, but they don’t fill our stomachs nor satiate our thirst for acknowledgement. Last year I participated in Ninja Warrior . It’s not quite a competition, and it’s not quite parkour—I found all sorts of excuses . But once it was over, I felt like I had sold my soul, like I had been promoting a misleading and potentially destructive show. That’s when I decided not to go for it again the year after. And yet, that year I ended up regretting all my fine words that prevented me from participating in the program with my friends. If I’m offered the opportunity again next year, I can’t guarante that I won’t succumb to the call for fun, glory, and mental and physical challenge.
So even when you are firmly convinced of your opinion, there are decisions that are hard to take, positions hard to keep. It is even more so when the alternative is not that clear: you’re asked to compete, not to commit a murder. Is it that bad after all? With a bit of luck, the FIG is going to help parkour make a huge spring forward! What are the odds your choice will change anything for the situation anywawy? Isn’t it a lost cause already? What’s more, the debate is probably completely beyond the understanding of your non-tracer circle—they are probably encouraging you to not let go of this opportunity to shine. And just stop and think: you will be generously paid for it, while you may be struggling with money and running out of opportunities! You’ll benefit from the huge media coverage, and considering the small amount of participants, you’re relatively likely to win a medal in an ”official” Parkour World Cup!
There are obviously positives there for you, but also for the discipline: after all, it’s in the FIG’s interests for parkour to become more popular where it doesn’t exist yet, it’s in their interests that parkour be seen in a positive light by governmental officials, it’s in their interests to spare our values in the first place so that we don’t run away. I’m convinced the FIG is going to do nice things for us. A lot of otherwise illegitimate organisations manage to get lots of power to carry out absolutely wonderful deeds. On the other had, this is how they manage to get their positive brand image to speak louder than all the negatives they are so careful to hide. But sooner or later, one of those brands is going to burn your wings.
WHY DO WITHOUT THE FIG?
Nevertheless, to my mind there are more negatives than positives. At least from the collective rather than the individual perspective, and in the long term rather than the short term. So I’m going to get a bit more confrontational here: as athletes, I don’t think you’re fully objective. You’ve got too much at stake, and for that matter the FIG also has too much at stake concerning you. It’s obvious the FIG can’t do without athletes, so it’s obvious they are going to go easy on you. As well, most of you are more interested in action more than in the institutions’ intricacies; there may be some elements you don’t know about.
Let’s start with legitimacy. In countries where the gymnastics has already taken over (Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands), “outdoor” tracers (since when do we even make a distinction?) do not feel represented. On the other hand, many national parkour federations already exist in other countries, and where there are none the community has still united against institutional power abuse . The gymnastics federation competely short-circuits all this patient and assiduous work. It assumes power over a still young and defenseless discipline. Our exchanges with them have proved it: at best they will accept the profits of our work, at worst—they are quite clear—they’ll do without us. A tad authoritarian, isn’t it?
The sole positive aspect of this matter is that numerous national federations were born to stand against this tidal wave. Parkour Earth emerged as an international body . So yes, Parkour Earth isn’t and will never be the magical solution. It has less means, is less well organized, it offers less attractive perspectives. But it has the merit of having been created by the existing communities.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about the IPF (international parkour federation) . Judge for yourselves: it stemmed from the WFPF , a for-profit that launched a non-profit branch for convenience, with the same decision makers . Affiliated athletes and countries have been featured on their website, without ever having given their permission or even being made aware of it . It has committed countless little juridic faults , defamations , and position reversals. It outrageously boasted about being the ultimate solution, the one body that would fight the FIG for us . A few months later, it’s nonchalantly working for them .
So much for its legitimacy regarding the communities; let’s talk about founders and athletes now. Charles Perrière and David Belle are two of the founders and joined the FIG, true. But what about the others? Five of them clearly stand against the FIG, and another hasn’t given his opinion . If this were a democratic system, who would win? What about the athletes? It appears that despite appealing to media coverage and financial incentives, the FIG has had to face over thirty refusals… 
The FIG is not legitimate at the moment, there is no question about it. Federations, most of the founders, and a large part of the athletes believe so. However, the FIG will be able to overrule all of that if we ease off.
Parkour could easily be turned into a suicidal and reckless sport; or even into a burglary training method. There are two ways to prevent this: education and awareness, or well-defined surroundings and protection. What do you think gymnastics is going to do: teach us to evaluate our limits, or cushion the corners? Is it going to teach us to respect our environment, or to confine the sport to standardised runs? Need a clue? Look at the route unveiled during this first world cup in Hiroshima. 
A second layer of thought: would those gymnastics options be suitable for us? Could more protection help us “to be and to last”? Look at how professional gymnasts retire at the very beginning of their twenties  and answer for yourself. “To be strong to be useful”? Easier said than done when we only train on stereotypical and standardized modules, without being confronted by the real world.
This different spirit, dictated by an all-powerful body, will lead to an inexorable and fatal alteration of our discipline. I can’t even let myself use the conditional tense, considering how it’s already been demonstrated by experience. It happened with snowboarding (which gradually lost its free mindset since it was encroached on by the ski federation) , it happened so with skateboarding (discouraged outside of skateparks ), it happened with rock climbing (which is now taught in gyms, pursued at high levels in gyms, and is only marginally practiced outdoors ). Time will come when the FIG won’t need us anymore, and then we won’t have any more protections: the people behind the desks don’t have particular concerns about preserving the parkour culture and its community.
And if these other sports’ experiences aren’t enough for you, here are the first indicators for our own discipline: this year the national gathering of the French Parkour Federation  was extremely difficult to organize. The city didn’t want to give us permission for these dates; it wanted us to organize a common event with the FISE (co-organizing the world cup in Montpellier with the FIG) taking place a few months later. Independents are going to pay the price for this gravitational well, drawing in all of the surrounding stars. If we let the FIG seize our movement, I’m betting—optimistically—that in ten years any event, gym, athlete, or association, will have to be stamped “FIG” to be taken seriously.
If we are convinced that we’d better do without the FIG, we can’t just wait and see. To take the example of rock climbing again, money has almost rendered the discipline unrecognizeable. Their federation is stripping outdoor routes, which are too expensive to maintain and which scare insurance companies. Thus the independant climbers, far from all those debates, can’t continue anymore . Those that pull the strings will hear the ones shouting in a megaphone much better than the ones keeping quiet. We all have a political role to play.
HOW TO ACT
I’m going to speak to the athletes first. Parkour Earth is doing as much as possible, among other things with a juridic procedure at the Court of Arbitration for Sport . But this won’t be enough. You have a strong voice, so you can let the community know that there may be a more auspicious future, a future where parkour is going to be led by its community and not by hotshots longing for money and power. Petitions have been signed by thousands of tracers . Some of you cowrote an open letter to defend parkour sovereignty . Like the rock-climbing “Manifesto of the Nineteen” , it will stay engraved in history. Unlike rock-climbing, though , you can show that one year later, you’re still united on that front. Why not write another manifesto to confirm your stance?
As I already stated, the decision is yours, and if you accept the FIG’s offer, it’s quite understandable. Just be aware that if you refuse it, you’re taking a step forward for parkour, for that art that you learned to like for what it has in terms of unconventionality, liberty, and innoncence. This step will certainly not be decisive. You’re running the risk of having lost a huge opportunity for nothing, for a tsunami that’s impossible to stop. You’re running the risk of leaving your place to people not as well-intentioned as you. But you’re not letting an abusive body use your image. By refusing to cooperate, you and the thirty others before you are keeping it from declaring its legitimacy. You’re making its life more difficult, you’re slowing down the conquest. The first world-cup scheduled in Montellier in 2017 was a fiasco thanks to the general outcry. Parkour hasn’t been admitted to the 2020 Olympics . Your choice matters!
Is there any other way to act? Probably: you’ve got the opportunity to speak face to face with David Belle and Charles Perrière. They changed their minds once, they could probably reconsider their position! Anything else? I can’t give you this piece of advice, since you would take risks, but think about it for a minute: what if you participated and ran the course in reverse? Or else, what if instead of climbing the podium you took the mike to say a few words, didn’t touch the prize, and left with a T-shirt printed “#weareparkour” in the back? And what if, instead of one isolated dissident, a majority of you did it? It’s in substance what happened during the first French parkour “championship,” the Xtreme Gravity . There was no second time.
What about those that have not been invited by the FIG? Of course you can sign the petitions . We could as well invade the course with banners; this is obviously among the options. It has been done during the Red Bull Art of Motion in Sao Paulo in 2011. Unfortunately, apart from a video posted on an account that has since been closed, there was no media coverage. Which leads us to the next point, probably the most important: everybody should contact all local, national and international media to let them know about this action (Note: you’ll find a list in the end of the article). The more messages they get, the more they’ll realize it’s important and they will talk about it.
One last idea: what if two days before the competition in Montpellier that will take place on the 11th and 13th of May , all the tracers set a temporary #weareparkour profile picture? What if on Instagram they tagged @figymnastics on a #weareparkour picture? Last year the FIG ‘s streamline has been overloaded with 150 protest pictures. If the media pick that up, we’ll have already won a small victory!
The fight is not lost yet! A few days ago, Austrian tracers inaugurated their national federation ; the Storror team just publicly confirmed their stance against the FIG events , the Italian Art of Displacement Academies published a letter of protest . If there is anything exciting about this whole topic, it’s indeed that it makes us forget all our little disagreements and gather together! If all those who felt concerned acted on it, would the FIG really be able to misappropriate parkour?
The decision is yours, and once it is taken I won’t judge you. I won’t even have the nerve to ask you to weigh the pros and the cons, as I’m sure you’ve already done it. However, maybe there are certain arguments or solutions that you have not thought about? 
David Belle, along with his friends, has built something extraordinary. Something that has always existed, yet had never before been defined. Since then it has been continuously on the rise, and grown far beyond the control of its founders. Nowadays, the community has done more for the discipline than they ever did, and much as it pains me to say it, I believe I can state that this art is not fully theirs anymore. I believe I can state that it’s not the FIG’s either. It’s our responsibility to take action!
List of medias to contact
From the most local to the most international. I don’t know much about newspapers; if anyone believes some should be added or removed, just tell me! Meanwhile, the most important ones to my mind are in bold.
- Midi Libre : http://www.midilibre.fr/contact/;
- 20 minutes : email@example.com
- La gazette : 04 67 06 77 77, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Montpellier info : email@example.com
- Le métropolitain : 04 99 61 41 31
- Hérault tribune : 06 14 31 64 73, 04 67 11 05 22, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Magazine de l’Hérault : http://www.herault.fr/contact/autres
- Page Hérault de la Marseillaise : http://www.lamarseillaise.fr/demande-contact
- Le petit journal, pour le département Hérault : https://www.lepetitjournal.net/contactez-nous/
- France 3 régions : 04 66 04 23 23, email@example.com
- TF1 : https://www.tf1.fr/tf1/tf1-et-vous/pages/formulaire-de-contact.html
- France TV : https://www.france.tv/services/aide-contact.html
- Libération : http://www.liberation.fr/contacts/
- Nouvel observateur et Rue89 : firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- Slate : firstname.lastname@example.org
- Le point : 01 44 10 10 10, http://www.lepoint.fr/html/contact/
- Le Huffington Post : email@example.com
- Courrier international : firstname.lastname@example.org, 01 46 46 16 58
- L’équipe : email@example.com
- Insidethegame : https://www.insidethegames.biz/contact-us
- The guardian : firstname.lastname@example.org
↑ FIG considers now parkour one of its gymnastic sports. http://www.fig-gymnastics.com/site/rules/disciplines/pk
↑ The Parkour World Cup, co-organised by the FIG and the FISE in Montpellier, from the 11th to the 13th of May, 2018. http://www.fise.fr/fr/fise-world-series-2018/fise-montpellier-2018/sports
↑ Some thoughts about competition in parkour. http://david-pagnon.com/fr/le-futur-de-la-federation-de-parkour-avec-ou-sans-competition/
↑ My appearance in Ninja Warrior. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sjTnMpsWRg
↑ Ninja Warrior : My neat principles confronted by real life. http://david-pagnon.com/fr/competition-parkour-beaux-principes-confrontes-a-pratique/
↑ An impressive number of national communities stood up against the FIG: France, the U.K., Australia, New-Zealand, South-Africa, Poland, Germany, the USA with Apex, Switzerland, Italy (here and here), Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Israel, Austria, Indonesia…
And despite that, the FIG declares its event has been a huge success and that dialogue is open and honest.
↑ Parkour Earth, an international parkour federation created by the communities. http://parkour.earth
↑ The Internation Parkour Federation (IPF) has been created by the members of the World Free-running and Parkour Federation (WFPF). One is a non-profit, the other is a company, but the same people are at their head. https://wfpf.com/history-wfpf/ and http://internationalparkourfederation.com/ipf-international-board-directors/ . The confusion is blatant, with one advertising for the other.
↑ Athletes depicted on the IPF website, who had no idea they were there. https://www.facebook.com/groups/471861436159159/permalink/1810569438955012/
↑ Countries supposedly affiliated with the IPF, that have never actually been affiliated: Australia, New-Zealand, France and Switzerland. https://www.facebook.com/groups/471861436159159/permalink/1707121289299828/?comment_id=1708850909126866&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R1%22%7D
↑ Juridic faults. https://www.facebook.com/groups/471861436159159/permalink/1707121289299828/?comment_id=1729389950406295&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D
↑ Defamation. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=102131243475375603
↑ Turnaround in their stance. http://www.fig-gymnastics.com/site/figNews/view?id=1980
↑ One of the founders, Yann Hnautra, publicly stands up to the FIG misappropriation, along with the other founders Chaû Belle, Laurent Pietmontesi, Malik Diouf, and Williams Belle. https://www.facebook.com/yann.hnautra/posts/10210094806389130. These five founders all published protest letters of their own. Malik Diouf : https://www.facebook.com/mmalik.diouf/posts/10154830282922933. Chau Belle : https://www.facebook.com/addacademy/posts/10154589058041966. Laurent Piémontesi : https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1532121816799497&id=229538037057888
↑ Open letter from the athletes invited by the FIG, signed by Alex Schauer, Alyssa Serpa, Brodie Pawson, Luis Alkmim, Dylan Baker, Kasia Ilet, Lorena Abreu, Natalie Nikiforuk, Renae Dambly, Saskia Nevile. Since then, many others have refused the FIG’s advances. https://www.facebook.com/josephjameshenderson/posts/364529173945045
↑ The stereotypical course of the Hiroshima World Cup. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoVjFxLdMqI
↑ Gymnasts are the athletes that retire the earliest. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/for-olympic-gymnasts-its-usually-one-and-done/2012/11/09/c3dc8788-2ab9-11e2-96b6-8e6a7524553f_story.html
↑ Petition against the misappropriation of snowboard by the ski federation (in France). http://www.skipass.com/forums/divers/snowboard/sujet-98274.html
↑ Skateboard kickout stories…though to be perfectly honest, skaters are oftentimes in favor of skateparks. https://sidewalkmag.com/skateboard-news/kickout-stories.html. And while we are at it, let me share Rodney Mullen’s profound and rather sad view on the evolution of the discipline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekzjzFFE_pY
↑ In France, 90% of the members of the federation climb only in gyms. http://www.lemonde.fr/sport/article/2012/12/19/l-escalade-dans-ses-murs-3-3_1805262_3242.html
↑ The French Parkour Federation weekend took place in Reims, and was quite difficult to organize this year. http://www.weekendfpk.fr/
↑ The last wild men of rock climbing. http://www.lemonde.fr/sport/article/2012/12/17/les-derniers-sauvages-de-l-escalade-1-3_1805196_3242.html
↑ Letter of Parkour Earth to the FIG, asking for a juridic procedure at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. http://parkour.earth/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/PKE-Response-to-FIG-Meeting-Letter-Dec-2017-FINAL.pdf
↑ Two petitions to be signed. The MüvMag one: http://muvmag.com/fightthefig/ and the one I wrote on Change.org : http://david-pagnon.com/fr/contre-appropriation-fig/
↑ Archive of the Manifesto of the 19, signed by 19 of the most influent rock-climbers of the time: http://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cad-climbers.com%2Ffr%2Fnouvelles%2Fdossiers%2Farticle.php%3Fa%3D22
↑ 16 of the 19 signers of this manifesto took part in a competition only the year after. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifeste_des_19
↑ No Olympics for parkour in 2020. https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1051358/fig-to-continue-move-into-parkour-despite-tokyo-2020-rejection
↑ The very controversial parkour “French Championships” in 2013. http://www.onde2choc.com/xtreme-gravity
↑ The Austrian Parkour and Free-running Federation has just been born. https://www.parkourverband.at/2018/02/12/opfvgruendung/
↑ One of the most popular teams of the world, Storror, publicly expressed its voice against the misappropriation of the discipline by the FIG. https://www.facebook.com/StorrorBlog/posts/2068091969872320
↑ The Italian Art of Displacement Academies join together to protest against the FIG maneuvers. https://www.facebook.com/AddAcademyFirenze/posts/1630507873684810
↑ Sourced history of the “FIG-gate” for those that would like to know more. http://www.fedeparkour.fr/news/la-communaute-parkour-se-mobilise-pour-conserver-son-independance-etat-des-lieux
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Very well written David. Merci!
Not sure it made a difference, but at least I raised may voice like so many others did!
Lovely article. Thanks for writing. I’m going to start #we are not fig all my parkour videos in the hope that it somehow adds to the outcry. Parkour should remain free and unfettered. I wish we had more clout to throw back at the FIG bully.
Thanks, and sorry for the late answer. Let’s hope it’s not over yet!
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