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Cheerleading an 'elite team sport'

AAP logoAAP 8/12/2016 Melissa Woods

Put the pom-poms away - competitive cheerleading is far from a sexy sideline act and worthy of Olympic status according to the head of the sport's Australian federation.

Cheerleading and the martial art of Muay Thai have beaten 14 other sports to be awarded "provisional recognition" by the IOC and after three years they can apply to become part of the Olympic Games.

Steve James, executive director of the Australian Allstar Cheerleading Federation, said competitive cheerleading was different from the pom-pom shaking, high-kicking dancers on the sidelines of men's sports such as the NRL.

"It's a very athletic, elite team sport that's truly international," James said.

"That's the thing we're most excited about; if we get into the Olympics that's fantastic but more than anything we're most excited about the credibility and recognition it gives to the wider populus as to what our sport is.

"If it's been accepted into the Olympic than they will start to take notice a little bit more."

The federation last month held its four-day national championships on the Gold Coast with 10,300 competitors, predominantly female although there are co-ed competitions.

There are 4.5 million registered cheerleaders worldwide.

James said there had been a growth rate in Australia of between 25-30 per cent each year over the past 10 years.

While netball is Australia's most popular female participation sport, it's only played in Commonwealth countries that dents its hopes of an Olympic call-up, while there are 140 countries in the International Cheer Union.

The wider image of cheerleading may be one of hair spray, figure-hugging ensembles and gyrating dance moves but wearing outfits similar to gymnastics - with the addition of a skirt - teams are judged on their performance which run for two minutes and 30 seconds.

Skills involve stunts, tumbling, pyramids, dancing and jumps.

"We can have up to 30 people tumbling across the floor and then throwing someone six metres in the air, then doing a jump sequence," he said.

"The cardiovascular skills and strength of cheerleaders is pretty outstanding."

With the traditional home of cheerleading, the USA, still leading the way, Australia's hopes of an Olympic medal are strong.

"Over the last five years at the world championships Australia has received two silver and three bronze so we really punch above our weight and we're quite a respected country in the world as to our skill level."

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