What the heck is…cheerleading?

Cheerleading is next under the microscope in this series…but is it in fact a sport?

america Cambridge cheerleading competitive cheerleading cougars Instant Impact nfl pompoms Sport Tom Bennett what the heck

As far as this university and the broader British sporting administration is concerned, the one thing cheerleading definitely is not is a sport. In a demonstration of the traditionalism that attracts so many tourists to this city each year the University refuses to delineate from national policy and accept the increasingly vocal appeals of the ‘Cambridge Cougars’ to be recognised as a sport and so give them access to the sparse funds set aside for university sport clubs. Resultantly the Cougars have been forced to look for funding from alternative sources and as many of you may be aware thanks to a vigorous, read irritating, campaign of Facebook sharing and posting,  recently made a video showcasing the club in an attempt to win £1500 subsidise their high costs.

So what do the Cambridge Cougars actually do? The stereotype which immediately comes to mind when thinking about cheerleading is the classic concept of women donning small outfits and pompoms to act as window dressing for generally dull  American sports in which the action itself is not sufficient to maintain a viewer’s attention (NFL I’m looking at you).

There seems to be a lack of confidence in the NFL's ability to engage spectators on it's own.

There seems to be a lack of confidence in the NFL’s ability to engage spectators in it’s own right.

In reality the Cambridge Cougars pay little attention to other sports, their focus is upon competitive cheerleading which, having spread to the UK from the States is slowly growing in stature. As with any university sports club the Cougars centre their year around inter-university competition towards which they gear three two hour training sessions a week based around strength and conditioning, tumbling (gymnastics), and more general dance. Yes the manner in which they compete involves ridiculous levels of make-up, a fairly dire selection of “music” along with choreography and plastic smiles. And yes the name of their next competition is ‘Saturday Night Fever 2014’ but despite these distractions the squad that ultimately come away from competition with victory is the squad who has worked the hardest and contains the most athletically talented individuals.

The squad at a competition last year.

The squad at a competition last year.

At these competitions the Cougars are judged by a panel upon the manner in which they execute difficult gymnastic feats in synchronisation with the rest of the squad and with music. As someone who struggles to successfully execute a forward role, the idea that backflips and the like can be dismissed as a girlish pastime and not as a sport is ridiculous. There is clear athletic ability involved in cheerleading. There is clear advantage to be gained from training and dedication, and there is a clear framework within which squads can compete against one and other.

What the heck is cheerleading? It’s a sport, it’s a pretty weird sport with lots of trappings that will render it inaccessible to many, but it is a sport. With a Varsity match having taken place for the first time earlier this year, naturally commented on as an entirely legitimate news item by the Daily Mail, and a squad rising to over 50 people cheerleading in Cambridge is very much on the up.