An open letter to the UK OCR and ninja sport community

UKOSF stand at Nuts Challenge with two Pull-Up Mates

Taking part in obstacle sports is a privilege. 

Not everyone can do it, and there may come a day when I won’t be able to do it anymore. 

Sport has the power to change lives, indeed we only need to look at our own sport for evidence of this. Imagine what we can do for the world if we can double or even triple the numbers of those taking part in OCR and ninja? Obstacle sports (and exercise in general) is not accessible to everyone, and I feel an enormous sense of purpose in helping to change this sobering fact. 

We have an incredible community, and I truly believe we can lead the way in the UK for how a small sport like ours can be run and organised. 

This is one of the reasons why I have volunteered for UKOSF since the end of 2019, and since April this year as Interim CEO. A national governing body (NGB) can play a central role in the growth and accessibility of a sport, alongside brands and athletes*, if it is structured right and proper. A sport like ours needs an NGB to access funding, not just for UKOSF, but for community projects up and down the country. I’m convinced that with recognition we would have a massive opportunity to help many more people to take part in obstacle sports. I want to see a future where every park has some kind of free obstacle sports training equipment available. Parkour was recognised as a sport in 2017 and parkour training equipment is now becoming commonplace in parks and urban centres. It can 100% be done.

Image: A free-to-use obstacle park with 21 obstacles in Gothenburg, Sweden.

As Interim CEO I made a six-month commitment and I have honoured this with time and effort – working over 750 volunteer hours since I started in the role. It has been wonderful to see so many others volunteering their time and all of us actively working together to establish the federation. 

I set three goals when taking on this role, and while I would have to say I have failed to deliver them all for you I’m still very proud of what we have been able to achieve this year.

“The full integration of ninja sport into the federation through the implementation of our new organisational structure.”

Bringing two communities together was always going to present a challenge. However, I’m glad to say that this has been one of our most successful projects this year. A massive thank you to Ali, Beth, Shahedur, Henry and the rest of the ninja crew for their humility in this process and equally to the incumbent OCR team who have welcomed newcomers with open arms. As you will see in our revised constitution the groundwork is now laid for OCR and ninja sport to grow as distinct sporting disciplines within the federation.

“Supporting training centres and events as we move out of lockdown”

There is of course a lot more I would have liked to have done for the industry this year. When you look at NGBs like British Triathlon and how they helped their sport out of lockdown I was very envious. I want UKOSF to be able to do the same. I’ve come to realise the situation is a little chicken and egg. Gaining recognition will help us to support the industry through funding and UK Sport Council support, but to gain recognition we need to show the work we are doing to support the industry.

This said, a team of passionate volunteers has been available to help events and training centres throughout the year. We’ve introduced our licensing programme for events so we can promote them and hopefully soon will have affiliated training centres too. We also hope that our Weekend Warrior Award and campaigns like Share the Mud have also helped to spread awareness of the many great events and training centres there are.

I’ve personally had loads of conversations with Race Directors and facility owners. It’s been a pleasure to discuss our shared love for the sport and I hope that together we can continue to take the sport forward in the years to come. 

Image: The Weekend Warrior Award, given to members who train and compete and 8 or more different events and/or training centres in the UK.

“Completion of federation requirements to allow UKOSF to submit our UK Sport Councils pre and full application to become a recognised sport in the UK.”

It’s fair to say I massively underestimated the amount of work that was required to make this happen. We have not achieved either of these tasks, but we are closing in (subject to membership numbers**) on being ready for our pre-application and have made some initial strides into the full application requirements too. It has been a journey where I have learned a lot about the importance of sports governance, had some great conversations with the UK Sports Councils and remain convinced that what we are doing will benefit the sport in the UK. One of the biggest tasks was to define a constitution fit for purpose and one I could put my name to and ask our members to vote in favour of. Legal documents like this are never the most exciting thing you will read, but it is a document that will enshrine how UKOSF will be run in the future and will help to protect the sport that we all love.

**Membership growth has been slow this year. We are now up to 700 members (which is a fantastic achievement by everyone involved – and thank you members!), but this is far short of the 1650 requirement for our application. While this is a necessary consequence of the focus on the governance work this year, I was perhaps naive in my thinking that there would be a groundswell of registrations when people realised that we could gain recognition as a sport. I accept this is a failure on my part for not being able to help UKOSF communicate the benefits more strongly. Equally I realise that people will sign up to membership of a federation when there is a direct personal benefit such as access to a league, event or insurance vs. the overall indirect benefit of sporting recognition.

What’s next for me?

Moving forward I have to dedicate much more time to my own work commitments, and while reducing the time I can spend on UKOSF affairs I remain committed to the federation and proud of the foundations put in place.

At the forthcoming AGM, I will step down as UKOSF’s Interim CEO, but will humbly ask for the vote of members to become an Elected Director on the Board. I will continue to drive a number of areas of the federation and maintain my role as the Programme Lead for our recognition application. There are no immediate plans to replace the CEO role. As we will explain at our AGM our new board (that I hope to be a part of) will take on more responsibilities for decision-making moving forward. We will also delegate responsibilities to a number of UKOSF committees that are now up and running.

If you love OCR and ninja sport I ask for three favours:

  1. Support your sport: Go to events, train, marshal and importantly get your friends involved. Together, we can and have to grow our sport, and now more than ever – it really needs us. We should never take for granted the events and training centres around the country.
  1. Please be patient: It’s going to take time to establish the federation and to get it where we want it to be. The more we work together the quicker it will be, but remember a passionate team of volunteers can only do so much. We have to recognise this is a long-term project. 
  1. Don’t be a bystander: If you believe in the benefits of what a NGB can bring to the sport, get involved. Membership is less than a few cups of coffee and vitally needed for our recognition application. Tell your friends about UKOSF and share your ideas with us on the future of the sport. Support UKOSF at a one-off event or volunteer your time on a committee. We need to capitalize on the hard work of everyone involved up to now or risk losing this wonderful opportunity we have in front of us.

Momentum 

It was great to see that World Obstacle has achieved Observer Status within the Global Association of International Sports Federations – GAISF. This is an extremely important achievement for World Obstacle because it represents the first milestone in getting our sport recognised within the international sport community. 

I’m looking forward to many more milestones like this one globally and in the UK.

Let’s do this.

James

P.S. If anyone ever wants to chat with me about UKOSF and obstacle sports feel free to send me a message. Always happy to chat.

4 thoughts on “An open letter to the UK OCR and ninja sport community

  1. I am a single mother of 6 and we always Marshall to race as its the only way we can afford to join in. How much is membership for adults, teens and children please?
    We marshall and run together as a group of up to 7 adults and 9 children (family and friends) we call ourself the Muddy Llamas!

    1. That’s amazing. Our membership is £10 for adults and £5 for children. We have recently ran an offer for free junior membership that has now closed, but if it would be beneficial please drop UKOSF a message on Facebook or Instagram and we can see what we can do. We really want to encourage getting more kids into the sport.

      We often have discounts for races and free ticket competitions for members.

      We would love to welcome the Muddy Llamas as members 🙂
      http://www.ukosf.org/membership

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