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Pole-dancing in the Olympics? International sports federation recognition helps pave the way.

Pole-dancing is emerging as a sport — and a clean one in more ways than one. Their clothes stay on, and top-level participants must comply with World Anti-Doping Agency standards. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

No strip club necessary. Pole-dancing now stands on its own as a provisionally recognized sport thanks to the Global Association of International Sports Federation, which granted the activity’s international governing federation “observer status” earlier this month.

“Pole Sports is a performance sport combining dance and acrobatics on a vertical pole,” GAISF writes on its website. “Pole Sports requires great physical and mental exertion, strength and endurance are required to lift, hold and spin the body. A high degree of flexibility is needed to contort, pose, demonstrate lines and execute techniques.”

Observer status is the first step international federations must achieve before becoming full GAISF members, which serves as a great boost for any sport hoping to one day land in the Olympics. And that is exactly pole-dancing’s goal, according to International Pole Sports Federation President Katie Coates, who lauded the day the decision was made on Oct. 2 as “historical.”

“The IPSF is very proud to have taken this positive step towards official recognition and the GAISF Observer Status will give our sport the opportunity to develop further, on the national and on the international stage,” she said in a statement. “In just eight years we have created a sport, ignited a global following and inspired a new generation of sportsmen, [sports]women and children. I am thankful to the IPSF and GAISF teams and excited about the future of our sport.”

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The road to the Olympics isn’t short, however. Along with a recognized governing body, prospective sports must also gain separate recognition from the International Olympic Committee. Provisional IOC recognition lasts three years, during which committee members decide whether to give it full recognition. If successful, the sport’s governing body still needs to then petition to become an official Olympic sport, which can take several more years.

For Coates, however, those obstacles do not sound insurmountable, considering the uphill battle she said she faced while campaigning to gain provisional recognition from the GAISF.

“I feel like we have achieved the impossible,” she told the Telegraph this week. “Everyone told us that we would not be able to get pole-dancing recognized as a sport.”

Today, pole-dancing competitions are as family-friendly as any sporting event — and just as well regulated.

The IPSF outlines its rules, judging and other criteria in its 137-page document, that lays out guidelines for several categories of competition, ranging from youth to mixed doubles to para-competition. Pole dancers are even required to take doping tests to ensure the sport is clean.

Watching a competition is akin to attending a dance recital of sorts, where the athletes, often dressed in sparkly two-piece outfits or leotards, perform choreographed routines set to music on two 20-foot poles on a spotlighted stage. One pole rotates while the other is static, which allows athletes to perform different types of tricks as outlined in the rule book.

The IPSF even began holding its own world championships in 2012. Russia’s Anna Chigarina is the current women’s champion.

“Pole-dancing is not like everyone thinks it is,” Coates said. “You need to actually watch it to understand.”

Six other international federations joined pole-dancing in gaining provisional recognition from the GAISF this month. They include some other eyebrow-raising activities, including arm-wrestling, dodgeball, poker and kettlebell lifting, as well as FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer and golf, and table soccer, which is better known as foosball.

“We warmly welcome our first Observers,” GAISF President Patrick Baumann said in a statement. “This is an exciting time for them and for us and we will do everything within our remit to help them realize their full potential as International Federations within the global sport’s family and, one day, maybe become part of the Olympic program.”

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