Pole dancers rally to add their sport to the Olympics. © Cesar Aguilar

Pole dancers rally to build awareness and add their sport to the Olympics. © Cesar Aguilar

by Andrew Yee

A few days ago we alerted you of a petition by ‘cross fanatic Michael Fee to gather support for cyclocross in the Olympics. As of now, thanks in part to our post, the petition has 712 signatures in just a few days. Impressive, for sure, but that pales (blushes?) in comparison to the major effort by pole dancers to grab Olympic-season press and make their case for a typically stripper-dominated activity to be included in the summer Olympics.

It’s debatable whether a petition will capture the attention of the IOC, but if so, ‘crossers have their work cut out for them and can learn something from a group of steel tube lovers of a different kind. The pole dancers have created quite a PR machine, with an AP story about their campaign featured on Yahoo! Sports, MSNBC, and hundreds of local news TV broadcasts, new websites and newspapers. Some dancers claim they even have 150,000 signatures supporting their case. This one official petition doesn’t quite have that number, but still boasts five times the signatures that the cyclocross petition does.

It may all sound like a joke, but if you’re still reading, it’s actually an interesting case study on how an organization and community can build awareness on a sport, even if they’re unsuccessful on the actual goal of getting the sport in the Olympics. The International Pole Dancing Fitness Association stands behind this campaign, promotes it on the IPDFA home page and endorses the petition. And now, with all the press, suddenly normal people and even abnormal bike racers are talking about this obscure sport. But is the sport much different from ours? How many “normal” people have heard of cyclocross? While we may think pole dancing is obscure, it too has its own world championships for both men and women, competitors from many countries and continents, and even its own magazine as well.

Sure, with the Louisville Worlds coming in 2013, cyclocross is moving in the right direction, both in expanding internationally and growing domestically, and Worlds will undoubtedly help raise the awareness of the sport, especially in the Louisville area. But a carefully crafted PR campaign that hits most mainstream media outlets has an order of magnitude more exposure – and could help the Louisville event be an even bigger success.

If you think a petition will capture the attention of the IOC, UCI (the organization that was reportedly in talks with the IOC about adding cyclocross) or USA Cycling, rally the troops for signatures and encourage USA Cycling to support and publicly endorse the effort.  Perhaps the end goal doesn’t have to be getting the sport in the Olympics, but rather just gaining more exposure for cyclocross so that one day our best riders can earn a salary to focus on the discipline. If that happens, we just might have a chance at making sure the rainbow jerseys the UCI brings to Louisville stay right here in the States.