Olympic juggling?The sport vs art debate in juggling has raged probably as long as juggling has existed. We’ve even covered it on this blog. With the Rio Olympics happening in August 2016 and the announcement that skateboarding will be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the question of whether juggling could and should be an Olympic sport has come up again.

Before we get to the more controversial topic of should juggling be an Olympic sport in part two of this series (coming next week) let’s deal with an easier question to answer; could juggling be in the Olympics. We’ll then look at what form Olympic juggling might take. In the second instalment we’ll brave the beast of whether juggling should be in the Games and made more competitive.

Could Juggling be an Olympic Sport?

IJA logoThe short answer is as it exists now (2016) juggling could not be an Olympic sport.

All potential and actual Olympic sports must be governed by an international federation – an organisation that sets the rules for competition and takes disciplinary action against members who cheat. The closest thing juggling has to this sort of organisation is the World Juggling Federation (WJF) and the International Juggler’s Association (IJA).

Both these organisations have competitions for which they set rules. However, neither of these organisations’ competitions are prevalent enough to qualify. Men’s “sports”, i.e. activities governed by an international federation, must be practiced in at least 75 countries over four continents (women’s sports have less stringent prevalence requirements) to be considered for the Olympics. Both IJA and WJF competitions are primarily held in the USA. They are certainly well short of the Olympic requirements – to my knowledge there is no WJF or IJA sanctioned competitions in Europe, Asia or Africa, at least not currently.

A WJF team combat tournament

The type of juggling competition that comes closest to meeting the prevalence requirements is Fight Night Combat Juggling (FNCJ). FNCJ is a one vs one competition (see video below for an example) that is run fairly informally by Luke Burrage. FNCJ competitions tend to be held at juggling conventions and festivals and are becoming an increasingly popular sight throughout the world - tournaments have been hosted in 21 countries and at least four continents. While FNCJ probably lacks the formal “governing body” criteria for an Olympic sport, the number of countries and continents that have FNCJ events are much closer to the requirements than either the WJF or IJA events.

In a nutshell, as it stands in 2016 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wouldn’t even look at juggling when considering new Olympic sports.

Even if, in future, juggling gets a world governing body that has enough competitions throughout the world these criteria are only a threshold for a governing body, and thereby the sport, to be recognised by the IOC. Sports meeting these criteria can apply for inclusion but they’re still a long way from being an Olympic sport. The IOC has a limit on the number of sports and the number of competitors at the Summer Games so juggling would have to compete against other sports that meet the criteria but aren’t yet on the Olympic program. Such sports include; karate, sport climbing, netball, cricket, bowling, air sports, chess, surfing and sumo wrestling, to name just a handful.

Essentially, juggling doesn’t really stand a chance of being in the Olympics, at least not for a very, very long time.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume juggling has a suitable governing body, the (fictional) Fédération Internationale de Jonglerie (FIJ), that oversees competitions that are prevalent enough to be recognised by the IOC. Let’s also assume juggling is perceived as increasing “the value and appeal” of the Olympics so is included in the Summer Games. What could Olympic juggling look like?

Volley club. Copyright EJC 2015. Photographer Philip Nicolai

A sport is something governed by an international federation, at least in the eyes of the IOC. Each “sport” can represent more than one discipline and those disciplines can have more than one event (the things medals are actually awarded for). For example, the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique governs the disciplines of artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampolining in the Olympics. Each of those disciplines is split into many events such as men’s team, women’s individual all-round, women’s beam etc., etc.

Given that hierarchy we could easily go over the top here so let’s keep it simple(ish) and restrict ourselves to a few juggling club disciplines. The FIJ could govern the disciplines of combat juggling, volley club (like volley ball but with juggling clubs, see image above) and artistic juggling, short juggling routines similar to rhythmic gymnastics. Each of these disciplines would have a number of Olympic events. For example, individual and team competitions, men’s and women’s events (or maybe they’d be unisex?), three club and five club “artistic” routines. We could go on.

That covers how juggling could become an Olympic sport and a brief glance at what Olympic juggling might look like. But should juggling be an Olympic sport? Would it have a net benefit for juggling or would it be detrimental? Watch this space for our attempt at an answer…