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Urban sports, between Olympic integration and preserved identity

Twenty five years. The maturity that settles, and the full form that rides. In Montpellier, the International Extreme Sports Festival (Fise) is celebrating its quarter century of existence from this Wednesday, May 25 with drums and trumpets: 600,000 spectators are expected on the banks of the Lez to applaud nearly 2,000 “riders » BMX, skateboard and scooter specialists (read below).

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Acrobatics of all kinds, music at top speed, but also high-flying performances, the Fise in all its splendor, cantor of the development of these other sports also called “alternative”, “urban”, even “action sports”. Disciplines born in the street or on other playgrounds than traditional sports, which first claim a lifestyle and the absence of executives, but which for some years have come closer to the sports movement, until the recent integration of some of them into the Olympic Games, like skateboarding and BMX in Tokyo, “breaking” soon in Paris.

A new youth for the Olympic movement

The Fise is not for nothing in this evolution. The founder of the festival, Hervé André-Benoit, is one of its main architects and one of its best advocates. “For years, Fise and these sports have grown up in almost general indifference, he says. We were the rebels, unorganized, caricatural riders for the sports authorities. We had to professionalize ourselves to become credible, especially with sponsors and the media. »

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Twenty years later, urban sports follow the same path as the sliding sports emerging at the end of the 1980s, windsurfing, surfing, snowboarding. Disciplines that advocate freedom and pleasure above all, far from competitions and marked practices. But that the Olympic movement hastened in the 1990s to bring back into its fold. “And it is an inevitable phenomenon, judge the sociologist Thomas Riffaud, who went from a shy kid at the edge of skateparks to a roller-skating champion on the professional podiums. Sports appear on the fringes, but most don’t stay there. These are movements that experience a “sportification” with the establishment of understandable rules, essential to interest the general public and go beyond the community framework. »

Keeping an alternative culture alive

It was from 2014 that international federations and the International Olympic Committee took a closer look at these twirling urban sports. “Traditional sports bodies obey a real desire for rejuvenation, observes Hervé André-Benoit. It is obvious that nearly one out of two kids today tends to practice these sports. We cannot ignore them. » For the creator of Fise, skateboarding and BMX at the Games are pathfinders. “In skateparks today, 40% of practitioners are on scooters, he continues. And parkour (a kind of gymnastics which consists of overcoming obstacles in an urban environment, Editor’s note) is exploding. These two disciplines have their place for me at the Los Angeles Games in 2028, and Brisbane in 2032, two cities that are very focused on urban sports. »

This absorption by the dominant model is however still the subject of fiery discussions within the communities concerned. The risk of losing your soul, of being diluted in the great Olympic bath? Eternal debate. “If we look at the evolution of surfing, for example, we realize that there are now two populations that no longer have anything in common: seasoned athletes and surfers who are out of control, always in search of the ultimate wave. , comments Thomas Riffaud. Urban sports are now at a pivotal stage, with riders from both trends still coexisting. The Fise also sails on this crest line, with competitions of course, but seeking to maintain a living alternative culture. »

For Hervé André-Benoit, it is indeed a matter of pushing “a regulated practice, especially within skatepark academies, because a frame is something that reassures parents, but also to preserve free practice, because it’s our DNA”. A big gap which inevitably raises the question of the calibrated spectacle, especially for the Games. “You have to know what you are giving in or not in the process of Olympic normalization, emphasizes Thomas Riffaud. Be careful on the one hand not to expose riders who may not yet be athletes, and on the other not to offer competitions that are too smooth, erasing the exuberant spectacle of our disciplines, as was rather the case in Tokyo. » In short, a question of balance. But isn’t this the prerogative of aerobatic aces?

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Seven disciplines on the program

From May 25 to 29, seven disciplines are on the program of the International Festival of Extreme Sports (Fise).

Three are Olympic: BMX freestyle park and skateboarding present in Tokyo, and breaking (or breakdance) which will make their debut in 2024 in Paris.

The other four are inline skating, scootering, parkour and BMX flatland, which consists of chaining tricks on your bike without dismounting. The Fise has forged partnerships with certain international federations, such as the International Cycling Union or the International Gymnastics Federation, which enables the festival to host the BMX and parkour World Cup stages in particular.

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