'Jumped-up' plan to stage world competition sees free runners falling out

Leaping from roof to roof may become an international sport if the latest urban cult to hit Britain attracts enough sponsors

By Paul Bignell and Rob Sharp

Published: 22 April 2007

Free running, the urban acrobatic sport in which people jump across roof- tops and walls, is to stage its first world championship in Britain at the end of the year.

The sport, first popularised in this country as the result of a BBC advertisement four years ago, could see lucrative competitions being held in arenas up and down the country next year.

One of the founders of the world's premier free running organisations, Urban Freeflow, based in the UK, confirmed that plans were in the pipeline.

Known only as EZ, he said: "Plans are still in development, but we hope to stage something at the tail end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008. We want to do this properly. They'll be regional championships first in order to test the water."

However, many participants of the sport, which has more than 4,000 followers in Britain and 20,000 worldwide, have expressed their anger about the possible competitions. Internet bloggers on many of the free running networking and blogging sites have complained that the introduction of merchandising and sponsorships - and now major competitions - will compromise the "raw" element of one of the most spectacular sports to emerge in recent years.

On the official website, blogger Andi said: "There are several companies that want to make competitions in free running, and we all know that Urban Freeflow are not against competitions, so it won't take too long before it happens."

Another blogger named Zorak said: "If this is true about the competition, then it really sucks. It's really sad how money always destroys everything."

But EZ disagrees with the sentiment: "The people who are saying this are the ones who don't have any sponsorship," he said. "They're also the ones who don't have any exposure. "Sponsorship has been around for four or five years now. You don't have to be a part of it if you don't won't to be. If people are offered sponsorship by a decent company who agree to pay for trainers or pay for you to travel the world, no one is going to turn that down. It keeps the sport in the spotlight."

If the championships get the go-ahead it will be a significant step forward for this burgeoning sport that has already made its originators rich and famous.

Invented in the suburbs of Paris by teenagers Sébastien Foucan and David Belle more than 18 years ago, the sport, which is known in France as parkour - meaning obstacle course - began to grow from its underground roots in the mid-1990s.

Madonna hired a group of free runners to perform during her recent tour. Mr Foucan also performed impressive stunts on Casino Royale, the James Bond remake starring Daniel Craig.

Britain now has free running training centres and after-school classes in most cities. However, the sport did gain notoriety in 2005 after an Oxfordshire schoolboy was killed trying to leap a 7ft gap between two 35ft-high buildings.

FREE STUNTS

Free running, or 'parkour', features in Anthony Minghella's 2006 film 'Breaking and Entering'

In 'Casino Royale', Sébastien Foucan plays a character who uses free running to escape from James Bond

'District 13' produced by Luc Besson features stunt sequences. David Belle appears as one of the main characters

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