If you’ve not read part 1 of this series, about whether juggling could ever be an Olympic sport, head over here to check it out. This article follows on from that.
The question of whether juggling should be an Olympic sport (or just a sport in general) is a much more controversial and subjective subject than whether juggling could be in the Olympics. So, just to be clear, the opinions expressed below are either summaries from internet discussions or my own personal opinions. These discussions are also not limited to juggling. There is even a petition, started by skaters, to reverse the decision to include skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics.
Some general objections to juggling being an Olympic sport have been raised and look very similar to the objections under the skateboarding petition. They go along the lines of it politicising juggling, opening it up to corruption and to commercialisation. People also seem to like the fact that juggling is a niche, unusual activity and wouldn’t like the mainstreaming effect Olympic exposure may have on juggling.
A more specific controversy surrounds what we’ve called “artistic juggling” (see part 1). I envisage this discipline as something similar to a women’s artistic gymnastics floor routine, synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics or figure skating, for example. Athletes in these disciplines have to include certain things in their routines, e.g. twisting moves, tumbles and leaps in women’s gymnastics floor. These technical elements are awarded difficulty and execution scores. However, there are also plenty of marks awarded for artistic expression or interpretation of music. We can imagine three and five club versions of this sort of thing. Competitors create short routines that have to include, say, backcrosses, pirouettes and a balance. Marks could also be awarded for interpretation of the music.
Many people question the subjectivity of scoring artistic elements in juggling. The people who hold that opinion also often object to the other “artistic” sports we’ve mentioned and I can understand their point. However, that fact is this is already a widespread way of competing both inside and outside of juggling and circus. There are plenty of aerial circus competitions and the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (see video below for an example), the International Jugglers' Association and the British Young Juggler of the Year also assess and award medals for artistic routines.
“Artistic” competitions are here to stay whether we like it or not, but let’s get back to juggling. Would such competitions be a good thing for juggling? Advocates say competitive juggling would increase awareness of the “sport” and get more people juggling. They also claim it would raise the standard of juggling by motivating people to train harder in the hope of winning an Olympic medal and the prestige (as well as sponsorship/press money that may result from it). According to the World Juggling Federation (WJF) “the junior level competitors [at the WJF competition] of 2010 exceeded the skill level of the advanced competitors of 2004” (the source for this citation is no longer available unfortunately). Our hypothetical Fédération Internationale de Jonglerie (FIJ) would also receive a share of the Olympics Games revenue which could help to fund, develop and promote juggling.
Critics of this view might argue that the FIJ revenue from the Olympics would only be invested in sport juggling. Those against competitive juggling may also claim that all those people getting into juggling following Olympic exposure would only be interested in training for one of the competitive disciplines – volley, combat or artistic (see part 1). These new people might miss the joy of simple play, exploration and creativity that are the reasons many current jugglers juggle. It would, say the critics, start to make juggling all about competing. Many people who enjoy juggling like it so much because of the lack of competition. I hope I won’t cause to much offence by claiming that many jugglers aren’t all that physically competitive. The lack of competition in juggling attracts such people and gets them doing a physical activity, which has benefits for both mind and body, that they wouldn’t otherwise have been tempted by. The fear is that making juggling competitive would alienate that type of person.
Another common complaint is that competitive juggling would stifle creativity. Combat and volley club players have no real need to develop a wide range of interesting, innovative and unusual tricks, at least not ones that are useless in those sports. Even with the artistic competition format competitors would only train those areas for which marks are awarded. While new moves would be allowed if submitted for grading before the event, just like in gymnastics, the competitors would be constrained by the marking scheme of the competition. No one would practice multiplexes if they wouldn’t get judged in a competitive routine, for instance.
We’ve already established that the chances of juggling featuring in the Olympics are extremely slim but these considerations apply equally to non-Olympic competitive juggling.
Personally, I have sympathy with both sides of this argument. I think that the potential advantages of competition are real and could give more people access to this wonderful hobby/profession we have as well as raising the general skill level.
On the other hand, I also really like the fact juggling is, for the most part, non-competitive and the advantages that brings.
Like most things in life, I feel a decent compromise could be made. If competitive juggling, in whatever form, did increase in popularity and warrant an official governing body, like the FIJ, I think that body should also have a responsibility to promote and encourage non-competitive juggling. Any revenue from competitions could partially be reinvested in the promotion and development of non-competitive juggling.
I envisage this working something like many martial arts. While there is a significant competitive element there is also a large focus on the many other reasons to take up and practise a martial art. Whatever your primary reason for practising the discipline, no one is ostracised for focusing on one aspect or another. There is creativity in martial arts with new moves being developed that are useless in a combat situation. Martial arts are also being incorporated into stage shows with fire performers and jugglers (see the video below). Competition in martial arts doesn’t seem to have negated their non-competitive elements or stifled creativity. Having all elements available makes martial arts very inclusive, to sporty and non-sporty types alike, and juggling could benefit from this too.