A pole dancing instructor is celebrating “achieving the impossible” after finally getting the fitness activity officially recognised as a sport by a leading international body.
Katie Coates, 41, finally won her 11-year fight after the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) confirmed the activity would now be classed as a professional sport last week.
Katie, president of the international pole sports federation (IPSF), is now aiming for it to become a part of the Olympic Games.
She began the long road to getting pole dancing recognised as a sport in 2006, when she started a petition to get it into the Olympics which attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
Katie said: “In the early 2000s people started doing it as fitness and taking away the sex stigma, so no high heels and making it accessible for average people.
“Pole dancing is not like everyone thinks it is, you need to actually watch it to understand.
“Competitions started but they were very amateur, with friends of friends doing the judging. My goal initially was to make it more professional.
“I feel like we have achieved the impossible, everyone told us that we would not be able to get pole dancing recognised as a sport.”
After the success of the petition in 2006, Katie “dropped everything” and began working with the global pole dancing community to turn it into a sport.
In 2009 the international pole sports federation was officially launched, with Katie as the president, and they held their first world championships in 2012 to coincide with the Olympics.
However they found that the process to get pole dancing recognised as a sport by the GAISF was a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation.
GAISF is the umbrella organisation for all (Olympic and non-Olympic) international sports federations as well as organisers of multi-sports games and sport-related international associations.
Other non-traditional sports recognised by the body are cheerleading, powerboating and tug of war.
“We had to come up with a scoring system, rules and anti-doping process, everything you would associate with a sport like football,” Katie said.
“For the last three years we have been doing anti-doping tests, but this year was the first that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has tested our athletes. None of them have failed.
“To officially become a sport you need federations in 40 countries across four continents, and they need to be recognised by the highest sporting body in their countries.
“But most countries won’t recognise the federations unless it is officially a sport. It is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation. There has not been a new sport in 30 years.”
Then GAISF agreed to change the process they use to officially recognise sports, introducing Observer Status which temporarily gives a sport official status for two years.
Katie said: “They have given us a certificate which says we are an official sport, which our federations can take to their sporting body and say look we are a sport.
“We already have 15 federations approved, it will not be a problem to get to 40 in two years.”
Looking to the future, Katie hopes that pole sports will become a member of the International Olympic Committee, which they have applied for, and then one day become an Olympic sport.
She said: “Traditional sports are losing popularity, new sports are far more popular with young people.
“The Olympic committee work in eight year cycles, so it won’t be the next Olympics or the one after but who knows. Look at skateboarding, they snuck that in quietly for 2020.”
The president of GAISF, Patrick Baumann, has given pole dancing hope of becoming an Olympic sport in the future by saying that rock climbing and skateboarding’s inclusion in Tokyo games is “evidence that the pathway is there”.
He said: “We warmly welcome our first Observers. This is an exciting time for them and for us and we will do everything within our remit to help them realise their full potential as International Federations within the global sport’s family and, one day, maybe become part of the Olympic program.”
For those considering taking up pole dancing, whether male or female, Katie described it as being “not like your traditional sports”.
She said: “It challenges everything. There is an amazing community feeling in the sport, from the grassroots and up.”
The IPSF launched Para Pole last year, so that disabled people can take part in the sport as well.