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?