Paris, one imagined, would have been more puritan about one of the biggest events to be held in the city. After all, the raw drama of the traditional sports on offer at the 2024 Olympics promises to be scintillating enough. But the city’s Olympics organising committee wants to move with the times by turning a global cultural phenomenon from decades ago into an Olympic event.
In 2024, if the International Olympics Committee approves the city’s recommendations, get ready for “breaking battles”. To be fair, break dancing may be old but it isn’t dated. Like Bruce Lee did with Kung Fu in the 1970s, Michael Jackson gliding, popping and moonwalking through the 1980s and beyond made the art a global phenomenon, all the way to small-town India and Prabhudeva, who couldn’t croon like the king of pop but would certainly move like him. There is also an undeniable athleticism to “breaking”, the best practitioners can make it seem part capoeira, part kung-fu and display a gymnast’s flexibility. Yet, the question remains: Why has the Paris organising committee for the Olympics chosen to include a fluid, street art form in a rigid scoring structure that sport demands?
Breaking was, and continues to be, largely a sport (or art) of the marginalised — of immigrants and minorities that populate the poorer suburbs of wealthy cities. The cited reason for its proposed inclusion in the Olympics that it is among “sports that can be shared on social media, sports that are a means of getting around, forms of expression, lifestyles in their own right, sports that are practiced every day, in the street and elsewhere”. Perhaps this is France trying to say to its youth, “we see you”. But why, pray, must breaking become a sport to find expression? Ballet too requires almost superhuman flexibility and training. We are unlikely to have that art scored as a sport.