Here's a question for enthusiasts of sports and fitness minutiae (I know you exist): When has a sport grown to the point that it requires a national governing body?

Keep in mind, I'm not talking about a website used as a clearinghouse and to list upcoming events and registration portals. Nor am I talking about any kind of a fan site that has tips on how to get into a sport, how to train or where to buy equipment. I'm talking about a formal organization that has some kind of a regulatory or sanctioning function.

The function of an NGB is to set rules, decide when rule changes are necessary, and provide notification of those rule changes. It can also include disciplinary action for rules infractions, and it can set standards that cover various aspects of the sport. These might include something as general as the playing area to more specific regs concerning athlete safety, and even, depending on the sport, to the type of equipment and clothing used. In other words, it exists to establish some kind of consistency in competition, and some level of standardization.

Many sports (really, just pick any popular sport) already have an NGB, and chances are that organization is active in its management and in the governance of the sport.

So when a new sport emerges, at what point is it time to form an NGB? The reason I ask is this: With one summer Olympics just a few calendar pages behind us, I'm already hearing rumblings about the next one, and the one after that, and so on. And of course, that always brings up the issue of what new sports will be there.

Something that is increasingly being tossed around is obstacle racing. But at the moment, obstacle racing (or obstacle course racing, or OCR), though undoubtedly popular, lacks an NGB. And until there's more structure, we're not going to see it at the Olympics. Not even as a demonstration sport.

Does obstacle racing lend itself to having an NGB? Of course. In fact, something similar, the World Freerunning Parkour Federation, or WFPF, already exists. Parkour is a form of running and surmounting various obstacles and challenges. Unlike OCR, however, parkour is noncompetitive. [Editor's note: See the January issue of AB for more on efforts to establish parkour in the U.S.]

WFPF also isn't yet recognized by the IOC and it's not a part of the Games, no matter how much its enthusiasts want to see it there. And a competitive element is essential to the Olympics, meaning parkour's potential as a podium sport is slim.

And that brings us back to obstacle racing, which has never lacked the competitive element. As I said, it needs a governing body, but as yet, no organization seems to be even in the formative stages. But is it possible to govern obstacle races? Do they lend themselves to standardization?

Of course they do. Obstacle courses could be defined by length, and by degree of difficulty. And there could be rules governing various aspects of competition. As the sport continues to evolve, those are sure to be needed, as well.

So here's the challenge, and the question. Isn't it time for an NGB for obstacle racing? And if so, why hasn't anyone stepped up to the plate?

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Great article Mary,
In Australia the Obstacle Course Racing Association of Australia has been established as a way for stakeholders in the industry to work together to grow OCR awareness in the mainstream, increase participant safety, create a schools program, co-ordinate events and use economies of scale to deliver cost savings at events and to create rules for the Obstacle Course Racing League.
Each OCR event business is offered a seat on the board along with key industry people. It is a registered Not For Profit which will grow alongside the movement as it becomes a sport.
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Mary: Good question? I see a big need for some form of association leading to a National Governing Body. But, right now this sport is like a bunch of renegades and the big guys(Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, and Tough Mudder) really do not want to work together. I have organized Obstacle Racing Association(ORCA) and hope to really kick it off in 2013. Obstacleusa.com is the beginning web site. Since I have had NBG experience(President of USA Triathlon Board, and Board member twice) I know the pathway required to the Olympics; however, the one must is a NGB.

Mike Greer
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I disagree with the idea to establish an NBG for obstacle racing and with the comments supporting it. The nature of these races is for them to be a personal challenge to see if you can complete the course and all its obstacles. The Tough Mudder for example doesn't provide timing services because the emphasis is on completing the course and helping your friends and fellow racers get through it as well. The whole idea is that you will be pushed to your limits and possibly be injured but can you tough it out. A governing body would attempt to eliminate injury risks which would mean eliminating most of the obstacles. And how would they standardize the races for some sort of competitive circuit, could they mandate mud thickness? Temperatures? How much grease is on the monkey bars? Any attempts at standardization would hurt these different race's abilities to differentiate themselves. The goal is not to have anyone and everyone participating, it is to attract the 'renegades' who want a personal challenge. School programs? You would have to eliminate all injury risk and that doesn't fit with the point of the race. Sorry to disagree but I say leave these races be, an alternative style challenge with some heavy risk involved.
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Why? There is no reason to require governing. Is it a sport whose participants want to go to the Olympics. This article is like kids and little league baseball. Sandlots are awesome until an adult comes around and makes rules and makes the game terrible.

Don't ruin a fun sport by making rules. Let us just have fun. Each course makes the rules it needs.
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But obstacle 'racing' isn't racing; it's an 'experience.' Governing obstacle 'racing' would be like governing rec softball leagues. Let each league (or in this case, vendor) come up with their own rules and format. Besides, this is a fad that will burn out in a few years and people will move on to the next fad.
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I couldn't agree more with the comments anot keeping a NGB OUT. We (us enthusiasts) don't need a governing board. 99% of us are out that to have fun, set goals for ourselves, push ourselves to our limits and to enjoy a FREE beer at the end. If there is a board, there will be no beer. Need I say more?