Cheerleading in the Olympics?

Cheerleading is hoping to go from the sidelines to the spotlight by being recognized as an official sport for the 2020 Olympics. If that happens, it will be the culmination of Jeff Webb’s life’s work.

The history of college cheerleading

In 1974 Webb founded Varsity Spirt which later became Varsity Brands, a multi-billion dollar cheerleading business which sells uniforms, hosts competitions and runs instructional camps. Webb is credited with bringing cheerleading mainstream by infusing traditional cheering with more entertainment and athleticism.  His efforts have led to an explosion in interest and participation, as there are now about 750,000 high school cheerleaders, roughly 500,000 in club and 20,000 college cheerleaders.

Cheerleading is a sport

Long gone are the days of waving pom-poms and smiling. The cheerleaders of today are tremendous athletes with the tumbling skills of a gymnast who flawlessly perform complicated choreographed dance routines. The physical demands are great and cheerleaders suffer similar injuries to football and basketball players. Competitions are routinely aired on national television and there are all-star club teams which are not affiliated with schools or other sports.

Nine states, including California, now officially recognize cheerleading as a competitive sport. At the college level, there is a movement to make cheerleading an official sport for Title IX purposes and it’s under review by the NCAA committee for new sports. Will this momentum carry cheerleading to the Olympics?

Cheerleading has gone global

The International Cheering Union (ICU) includes 107 national federations and 70 countries are set to compete in the World Championships later this month. The ICU has the infrastructure and guidelines, like anti-doping and education, to qualify for the Olympics and has already submitted an application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Webb believes that cheerleading has a great shot to make the Olympics because it has all the qualities emphasized by the IOC. He told USA Today that “[cheerleading] is young, it’s visual, it’s telegenic and involves women and men.”

The growth of cheerleading over the last 40 years is largely due to the hard work and dedication of one man. If the IOC decides to include cheerleading in the Olympics, it will be a dream come true for cheerleading’s greatest champion, Jeff Webb.

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