Is cheerleading a sport?

US colleges that receive federal funding have to comply with Title IX – legisltation that requires them to ensure equal opportunities for all. This translates into ensuring (amongst other things) that women have the same opportunities to participate in sport as men. Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. has recently come under fire for dismantling its female volley ball team, but introducing a competitive cheerleading squad, which it assumed would count towards its quota of female athletes. The move was designed to save money, since the competitive cheer squad would be cheaper than the volleyball team. However, a judge ruled that competitive cheerleading doesn’t currently count as a sport, because “the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganised to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.” This is despite the fact that it requires a high level of gymnastic ability. What do you think? You can read more here, and also here*.

*It should be noted that the Telegraph’s photo is a bit unfair – it shows cheerleaders shaking pom poms. This photo is a better representation of the activity:

7 thoughts on “Is cheerleading a sport?

  1. The judge’s ruling, to paraphrase, is that cheerleading lacks the institutions of a varsity sport — I imagine things like national-level tournaments and a governing body (determining, for example, who’s allowed to compete and minimal standards of safety). But this has nothing to do with how physically demanding it is. Field quidditch (I assume!) wouldn’t satisfy this standard — not because of how physically demand it is, but because it’s not organized. But Scrabble would satisfy at least this necessary condition, since it does have these institutions.

  2. I’d say yes. The dictionary definition of a sport is simply a recreational pastime (which I found odd), but Wikipedia (not that I’d place all that much intellectual power in Wiki, but I still love it) has a definition, thus:

    “an organized, competitive, and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play…, (that is) governed by a set of rules or customs.”

    Sounds like a fair description of competitive cheerleading, especially at the university/varsity level. I think that junior high and some high school cheerleading is the less competitive type, which is maybe what the judge was thinking of as a sport. Maybe the judge should attend some national cheerleading conferences, and see just how competitive it is…

    The school shouldn’t have cut women’s volleyball, especially if they’re going to introduce rugby in a year; how much sense does that make? That doesn’t save money.

    But cheerleading has a pretty low place in the attitudes of people, even sports-minded people. Back in university, I had a conversation with a (male) cheerleader, and he said they were treated like complete crap by the rest of the athletic dept. Not only did they have one hell of a time getting gym space/time to practice, they often had to practice late at night. Security would come around and turn off the lights without warning, risking injury (what if they were in the middle of a spin-toss and the girl was in the air?). Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

  3. Cheerleading in the US does have a governing body since 2003, the USASF. In part because it’s relatively new, competition organization is entirely decentralized (there aren’t divisions as in other sports, just competitions put on by a variety of organizations that receive the sanction of the USASF), so conceivably that might be relevant, although why that would matter (if it did), I don’t know.

  4. As far as competition, it does depend on the schools around them, and whether there’s a regional body as well as the national one. It doesn’t do any good to have a competitive cheerleading squad if no one is using it and there’s nobody to compete against. It can’t be a varsity-classified team if it’s not doing competition, by the nature of the system. I don’t think the judge was claiming that it’s not a SPORT, only that it can’t replace a varsity-level, systematically competing team if there’s not an equivalent level of involvement both in-house and with other teams.

    Further, are the women who lost their team going to be able to pick up cheerleading? It’s a completely different skillset.

  5. Well, I’m sure it makes a difference between as to how much sense a cheerleading team makes; but my understanding (which may be wrong) is that Title IX simply requires that the sport has (1) a governing body; (2) coaches; (3) practice; (4) competition during a defined athletic season; and (5) the goal of competition rather than support of other teams. The only thing that ever seemed to stand in the way of traditional cheerleading was (5), but competitive cheerleading is a different thing, and the judge’s decision seems to me to concede that (5) was met. No doubt there’s some finer detail that I’m missing.

    Apparently the school’s response to the decision is that they are now going to have a women’s rugby team instead.

  6. From what I understand, the judge was careful to note that competitive cheerleading is not now considered a sport, but, if conditions change (probably the level of organization and enough competition), it could be in the future.
    On the other hand, women’s rugby = awesome.

  7. Read the philosophers of sport on the distinctions and overlaps between sports, play and games. Some great material is out there by Scott Kretchmar.

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