Cheer leaders at war
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco () - December 19, 2011 - 12:00am

The Philippines has been growing as a world-beater in alternative and non-mainstream sports this year, from frisbee to sport climbing to rowing. Last week, the Philippines placed third in the Cheerleading World Championships (CWC) in Hong Kong, behind Japan and Thailand. The squad, composed of champion cheerleaders from UP and a smattering of reinforcements from a few other schools, has been celebrated in the media, making the rounds of TV and radio sports talk shows.

But wait. Their achievement is now being qualified by an authority in the sport.

Carlos “Itos” Valdes, head of the National Cheerleading Championship and a broadcast colleague of this writer, sent a lengthy e-mail to The STAR to clarify the status of the CWC to “inform and update” the public and give the big picture regarding this emerging sport.

“The International Cheer Union is the world governing body for cheerleading, and has recently been given the green light to pursue its application for Cheerleading to be considered an Olympic sport. This decision was awarded last month,” Valdes begins. “The significance of these developments is that the ICU’s efforts in organizing for the sport was allowed by SportAccord, a partner organization of the International Olympic Committee. The ICU is the only organization being considered for the sport of cheerleading.”

In other words, sports dreaming of being included in the Olympic Games must go through requirements prescribed by SportAccord and gain membership in countries all over the world before being considered for inclusion by the Executive Committee of the IOC. If you recall, almost a decade ago, the IOC Executive Committee shot down a list of 14 applicant sports, including bowling, billiards and dancesport. In the case of cheerleading, recent developments indicate that there is a slim chance it may be included as a demonstration sport in Brazil in 2016, although realistically, the fastest sports to formally be included in the Games have taken no less than 12 years.

Valdes presented the NCC’s credentials to both the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission. Naturally, since they are not yet a recognized national sports association (NSA), they will not get any funding or recognition from the PSC. The most they can hope for is a one-shot financial assistance, if at all. On the private side, they have managed to gain nationwide exposure and success with hardly any sponsorships, either.

So where does that place the CWC (which is based in Japan), and on what scale does that put our squad’s achievements in Hong Kong? Valdez says that unlike the ICU which is going through all the formal channels to get cheerleading into the Olympics as a separate, independent sport, CWC is now surviving under another sport.

“The CWC is now under the umbrella of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), whose chosen associate sports organization is the International Cheerleading Federation (IFC). The local counterpart of the IFC is a group called the Cheerleading Federation of the Philippines (CPF),” Valdes explains. “The 2011 CWC was held together with an International Gymnastics meet, thereby attracting more countries. In 2009 in Bremen, Germany, the group also held a “world” competition attracting less than 10 teams in total. In other words, Cheer – according the FIG – is a discipline under gymnastics, and NOT an independent sport. Because of their losing ground against the ICU, the IFC had chosen to survive under the ‘protection’ of the FIG – who also wants to claim cheerleading as a gymnastics discipline.”

There are sports that thrive under the umbrella of mother sports. Diving is under swimming, and recently, the Philippine dragonboat team to the SEA Games was formed under the canoe-kayak federation. 

In addition, Valdes claims that the IFC internationally has issued misleading statements regarding its stature in the sport, and even its supposed recognition by SportAccord, which he says is untrue. Valdes adds that its local counterpart, Cheerleading Philippines (CPF) may simply be following instructions from its mother organization with regards to these issues.

The ICU Worlds, meanwhile, are held in Orlando, Florida. The ICU presently has 98 countries under them, with more applying for membership. The 2011 Worlds in Orlando attracted over 79 countries worldwide. The Philippines, through the NCC, sent a lone representative.

Valdes also clarified that, at the ICU World Championship, one country is one team, although it may participate in different events. The CWC, on the contrary, supposedly lists separate “teams” in different events, though they are members of the same delegation sent by a particular country.

Valdes claims that the CPF has not organized any large cheerleading competition in the Philippines, and insinuates that they have been claiming credit for being involved with NCAA and UAAP cheerleading competitions. Clearly, there is conflict between the two organizations. 

At the end of the day, there is no attempt by the NCC to disparage the achievements of the team that placed third in Hong Kong. Placing in an international competition is an admirable achievement. The battle is clearly upstairs, at the organizational level, and it will probably worsen until there is an official NSA for cheerleading. Each side will work to strengthen its position and increase membership, either on paper or in reality.

But as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Who is really doing the work for the sport?

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