‘Mockery’: Olympic breakdancing under fire

Val Pal: Valerie Acosta, 24, poses for the Los Angeles Times in Long Beach, California © Getty

Should breakdancing be an Olympic sport? Some claim that including the sport is a betrayal of the Olympic spirit, but others think breakdancing has earned its place in the limelight.

When you think of the Olympics, the sports that come to mind are probably gymnastics, running or swimming. But when you sit down to watch the Paris Olympics in 2024, you will be able to watch an all-new event: breakdancing.

Yesterday the International Olympic Committee added breakdancing to the lineup of Olympic sports in a move that has divided opinion. Australian sports legend Michelle Martin said that the decision made “a mockery” of the Olympic tradition. But British breakdancer Karam Singh is looking forward to it: “It's going to be great.”

Breakdancing originated in African American and Puerto Rican communities in the 1970s, then spread around the world, picking up dedicated followers in Britain and France, but also as far away as Japan and South Korea. Japanese breakers now dominate international competitions.

Breakdancing has all the hallmarks of a sport. It requires extreme physical fitness and dedicated training. And injuries are common: breakers often suffer muscle sprains, joint dislocations and even bone fractures.

However, some remain unconvinced. Martin argues that events like breakdancing that do not keep a fixed score – meaning that the winner has to be chosen by judges – are open to corruption.

Others think that featuring breakdancing at the Olympics flies in the face of what the contest is all about. But in fact, breakdancing would not have been out of place in the ancient Olympics, which aimed to celebrate the beauty of the human body as well as athletes’ sporting prowess.

Breakdancing, too, is a chance to show off the elegance of the human form.

For some, this is a question of inclusiveness. The Olympics already features shooting, fencing, sailing and no fewer than three horse riding events. These are all passions that cost a lot of money to pursue, and they are dominated by rich white people.

Breakdancing, on the other hand, was born in poor, diverse neighbourhoods, and around the world it is disadvantaged Black, Asian and North African communities that have taken it up and made it their own. Some think it is high time the Olympics featured a sport with its roots in these communities.

However, some breakers are also sceptical of the decision. They worry the inclusion of breakdancing in the Olympics will distance it from its local, creative roots. At one time, each city had its own signature breakdancing techniques. Now, the mainstreaming of the sport has stifled this originality, since people tend to learn using online videos rather than picking it up.

Should breakdancing be an Olympic sport?

Breaking even

Give it a chance, say some. Breakdancing requires just as much athleticism as more traditional Olympic sports, like athletics or wrestling, and while it does not have such an obvious winner as a scored sport, it is similar to other judged events, like gymnastics. This is a chance to celebrate a sport that was pioneered by the little guy, and make the Olympics a truly universal, inclusive contest.

Not so fast, say others. The Olympics should not try to represent every sport: it should return to its roots, with strictly scored contests in which there is a clear winner. There are already 10 international breakdancing competitions: it does not need to be an Olympic sport as well. Some also worry that the modern sport is becoming alienated from its roots in local communities.

You Decide

  1. Do you think breakdancing is a sport? Or an art?
  2. Think of three other sports you would like to see featured at the Olympics.

Activities

  1. Write a letter to your headteacher suggesting that breakdancing be added to the curriculum, and explaining some benefits.
  2. Write a story about an athlete preparing to be the first ever breakdancer at the Olympics.

Some People Say...

“The Olympic Games were created for the exaltation of the individual athlete.”

Pierre de Coubertin (1863 - 1937), father of the modern Olympics

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that watching the Olympics inspires many children to take up sports. After the 2012 Olympics in London, more than half of 12-year-olds in London said that the event had made them want to start a sport. However, many Olympic sports are difficult for children to access: 42% said that they had not been able to take up a sport because of a lack of facilities. This is not a problem for breaking: to become a breaker, all you need is your body, a speaker and some space.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether the addition of breakdancing to the Olympics is a kind of cultural appropriation. Some think that it is obscene for the Olympics to reward people for performing an activity that is actually banned in public places in New York City, the city of its birth. They worry that it will favour richer participants who can afford to pay for training, and not the poorer communities who invented it. But others think it is a celebration of the creativity of its inventors.

Word Watch

Michelle Martin
A former squash player who was considered one of the best in the world at her peak. She has been lobbying for squash to be made an Olympic sport for years.
Puerto Rican
People from Puerto Rico, a US territory in the Caribbean.
Corruption
Some people have accused Olympic judges of favouring competitors from their own nations, especially in boxing and figure skating.
Ancient Olympics
The forerunner of the modern Olympic Games, held every four years between 776BC and 394AD near the city of Olympia.
Fencing
A sport in which two participants duel each other with swords. The sport originated in Spain, which famously also produced the finest swords in the world.

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