CrossFit as a “real” sport

Posted by Ben Quinney on

Madeline Sturt impressed the stadium en route to qualifying for the CrossFit Games 2016. (CrossFit.com)


After the reaction the Australian CrossFit community had to the less than flattering article in the Sydney Morning Herald about Tia Clair Toomey’s performance at the Rio Olympics it got me thinking – why doesn’t the general public of Australia recognise CrossFit as a “real” sport? And what would it take to change that opinion?

As someone with little sporting background before finding CrossFit I have very little “classic” sporting knowledge to draw upon when asking these questions. I don’t know much about football, and I know even less about cricket or rugby. So what actually defines a sport?

What is a “sport” anyway?

I know it’s very 5th grade English report of me to do so, but I am going to do it anyway – Oxford Dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

So CrossFit has the technical definition for a sport covered, but so does Poohsticks – a sport that originated from a Winnie-the-Pooh book in which contestants drop sticks off a bridge into a stream and see who’s stick appears at the other side of the bridge first. Just as an FYI, according to Wikipedia, the annual World Poohsticks Championships have been held on the River Thames in the UK each year since 1984 – you might want to check your calendar if you are heading across the pond any time soon – you wouldn’t want to miss out!

It’ll happen – just wait!

CrossFit is a very young sport – in fact you might say that 2016 was its 10th birthday given that the first CrossFit Games was held in Aromas California in 2007. Comparatively, something like The Championships at Wimbledon turned 139 this year. Is it just a matter of time? Carly Menzies, CrossFit Superbox South coach says, “CrossFit is still in its infancy as a sport. People simply haven’t had the same exposure to CrossFit as other sports they have grown up with like football or tennis.”

Kayla Banfield, sideline interviewer at the Pacific Regionals and co-owner and coach of CrossFit Mode in Adelaide says, “I find that anything new, especially [something that is] gaining popularity, gets a LOT of criticism. It’s almost like sports have to be put to the test to see if they are strong enough to withstand the harsh judgement of the people before they can be accepted as real, or worthy of people’s time.”


(photo courtesy of crossfit.com)

People don’t like change

The saying is true – people fear what they don’t understand. How many times have we heard stories of top level athletes being kicked out of “globo” gyms years ago for doing “weird” CrossFit workouts before anyone else knew what it was? 3 time CrossFit Regionals athlete Michael Roach says, “those who haven't tried it [tend to] stick to what they know or think they know what's right. People don’t like change and CrossFit is new and tough and obviously works, [but it’s] not an easy road.”

Masters athlete and kickass mum Sarah Browne agrees, “as [members] of the CrossFit community we fiercely and passionately defend what we consider to be our sport because most of us have had a life changing epiphany about our fitness and identity having experienced CrossFit, but people can't understand that without having the experience themselves. Fear of the new and unknown, I believe, drives the negativity.”

How will we know if and when CrossFit has “made it” into the general public?

Carly Menzies believes that the key to being accepted by the general public lies with schools. “In my opinion, CrossFit will have 'made it' as a mainstream sport when schools teach functional training in PE classes, offer after-school CrossFit kids/teens programs and host interschool challenges on the weekend as alternatives to traditional athletics and team sports programs.”

Kayla Banfield agrees, “I think it is just a matter of time before it becomes more accepted - but it’s getting there. We have already branched into schools & other professional sporting clubs which has happened organically, and without a league or code required. People are seeing the effectiveness of our program.”

Do we even want the mainstream to recognise CrossFit as a sport anyway?

No one can argue with the fact that it is nice when the thing you love is given the recognition you believe it deserves, but do we as a community even want the general public and mainstream media to recognise CrossFit as a “sport”? Sarah Browne says, “I think as CrossFit-ters we need to get over ourselves to an extent. We are happy within our subculture and I don’t believe it's our job to convert the masses. I’m not a fan of Olympic curling or synchronized swimming but some people are, and they won’t be convincing me anytime soon.”

The truth is CrossFit may never be recognised as a “sport” in the eyes of the general public and mainstream media, for many it may always be seen as “too extreme” and requiring “too much effort.” Could you imagine ever seeing a fitness throwdown being ran alongside a Saturday regional football game? Me either – and maybe that is ok.

CrossFit doesn’t have to be for everyone.

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