IRV Team Competition 2021 will be virtual event

Letter by IRV President Henning Henningsen

Dear friends of Wheel Gymnastics,
Dear Wheel Gymnastics representatives in IRV member countries,

We would all like to go to our training sessions again, meet friends and prepare for the upcoming sports events in 2021. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic still holds us in suspense.

At the end of March 2020 I recorded a video in my living room to share the message about the postponement of the planned 2020 World Championships in New Jersey, USA. The postponement was the result of intensive discussions in our IRV team about how to handle the situation. 

Today, we are almost in the same situation. COVID-19 still affects our daily lives and a decision about the upcoming IRV events in 2021 has to be made to enable you to plan ahead. This letter informs you about the planned IRV Team World Championships in Leipzig (Germany) in May 2021. A decision for the IRV World Championships in July 2021 in New Jersey (USA) has not yet been taken.

In December 2020, we had a virtual meeting with our IRV Athletes’ Commission to talk about the challenges facing gymnasts and coaches in these uncertain times. We also developed ideas about how to motivate gymnasts and coaches, despite that lack of clear competition goals to train for. 

We all agreed that nothing can compensate for an on-site event, where gymnasts from all over the world meet and compete at the same place, in the same time zone and under the same conditions. We, as IRV, understand our World Championships as a competitive arena for every gymnast with the same conditions for everyone.

In October 2020, we introduced the IRV Online Competitions, where gymnasts can upload videos of their routines and have them evaluated by judges at the end of each month. We know that this digital competition format has its flaws (e.g. gymnasts could do their routines multiple times and upload the best video at the end), but it was important for us to offer new ways to keep gymnasts motivated and give them a goal for their training. We were excited about the high number of almost 50 participants in the first Online Competition, while the participation rate was lower in the following competitions. (Looking at the COVID-19 restrictions in Europe, we can see a direct link between the rate of participation and access to training facilities.) However, our overall experience of this competition format is positive and we will continue to offer online competitions to our member countries and their clubs in an effort to motivate the gymnasts and give judges the possibility to practice. There will be an online spiral competition in February 2021, followed by a straight-line with music competition in March 2021. We also need to improve some of the technical solutions with regard to challenges we have encountered so far (e.g. sharing of video files, video quality, etc.). 

Building on our experiences from the online competitions held in 2020, we moved one step further and organised a “live” virtual test competition via Zoom in mid January 2021, with participants from clubs in Belgium and Israel. A small group of judges attended the Zoom meeting and evaluated the routines, while the gymnasts performed in their own sports halls. It was great to see members of the Wheel Gymnastics family again, but we also identified challenges here, especially with regard to the video quality. It is clear after this test competition that we cannot just copy our existing competition format into the virtual space. We need to adapt it to make use of the opportunities of the digital sphere. 

As you have probably noticed, the German Gymnastics Federation (DTB), our host for the 2021 Team World Championships in Leipzig (Germany), has already cancelled the International German Gymnastics Festival (Deutsches Turnfest) due to the pandemic. We understand the decision taken by the DTB to cancel this event and have been in contact with the organising committee to discuss options for our Team World Championships that was due to take place within the framework of the Turnfest

Taking into account the cancellation of the Turnfest and the current situation of lockdowns, quarantine regulations, travel restrictions, and other uncertainties for most gymnasts worldwide, we are not able to take responsibility for the organisation of an on-site event in Leipzig or elsewhere at the moment.

However, we do not want to just cancel this competition! We have therefore decided to invest in a digital team competition format, where all 4 qualified senior teams and 5 juniors teams can take part. We are still working on the exact format, but here is a brief outline:

  • Each qualified team should meet (with strict infection control measures!) at a pre-agreed date/time in one gym. The date/time will be coordinated with IRV. We want to avoid international travel.
  • A starting order will be drawn by the IRV in advance and teams need to set their gymnasts accordingly (as is normally done during the competition meeting).
  • The plan is to record a video stream team by team at the agreed time, taking individual training times and gym availabilities into account. The specific set-up will be directly discussed with the invited countries.
  • IRV officials will virtually attend the video stream session, to guarantee that routines are performed only once.
  • An IRV video team will optimise the recorded videos of all teams for judging purposes.
  • Judges meet virtually on Zoom to watch the optimised routine videos and make their evaluations. 
  • All scores and videos will then be cut together in an overall “competition video” that will be published as a video premiere on Youtube at a specific date/time.
  • A Zoom Award Ceremony will be planned to take place after the video premiere, to announce the winner of the competition and allow all participants to connect – at least virtually. 

The details of this virtual event format are still under discussion. However, we’d like to keep the planned date of the competition on the weekend of 14-16 May 2021. All above-mentioned activities should ideally happen during this time frame. We are planning to have the technical details and times for the team video stream sessions ready by the middle of March – 2 months ahead of the competition.

As mentioned above, this virtual format will not fully compensate for the on-site competition planned in Leipzig. We have therefore decided to rename this virtual format as the “IRV Team Trophy”, while still applying the familiar regulations of the “IRV Team World Championships” with competitions rounds and jokers. This means that the title “Team World Champion” will not be awarded this year.

With the new IRV Code of Points – planned to be valid from 2022 – we are also facing  major changes in the Gym Wheel regulations. During our discussion with the Athletes’ Commission in December 2020, we had the idea of defining 2021 as a “transition year” for gymnasts, coaches and judges. In this case, we define “transition” in the sense of seeing 2021 as “the road back to normal”, giving everyone time to learn new skills, prepare new routines or return to “pre-covid” levels of strength and fitness. The videos from the 2021 Team Trophy will also give us material that we can use in additional judging sessions after the event. These sessions will serve to start testing the new Code of Points and we will share our findings with the teams in order to give them an indication of the changes and effects on their routines.

We are convinced that virtual competition formats will play a more important role in our overall competition structure in the future. Digital tools and technologies will enable us to offer innovative platforms and spread Wheel Gymnastics across all 5 continents. To support these plans, we are looking for volunteers who would like to shape the future of our virtual competitions as “Competition Officer Remote/Online Competitions”.

Coming back to our competition schedule for 2021, the postponed IRV World Championships event in New Jersey is another milestone in our timetable this year. We asked our member countries at the beginning of this year whether they are planning to send a delegation to the US in July 2021. So far, we have received feedback from 8 countries, whereby 5 countries are planning to send a delegation to the World Championships if travel is possible, 2 countries are undecided and 1 member has cancelled its participation. We will be taking these indications into account in the decision-making process of how to proceed with this event. A decision will be taken before the end of March 2021. We are also gathering information on how other sports federations are currently organising their international competitions.

Henning Henningsen
Henning HenningsenIRV President
Henning has been President of the IRV since 2015. He is extremely proud of all those working with him on a voluntary basis to make #WheelGymnastics a sought-after sport.