CrossFit, and its method of competitive cross training, has exploded in popularity since its inception 15 years ago. It has become a worldwide phenomenon, challenging the nature of the fitness and sports industry. With the Reebok CrossFit Open around the corner, it is a good time to ask some questions about how the young and growing sport is governed.
What is Crossfit?
CrossFit was established as a training philosophy in 2005. This philosophy focuses on “functional” movements, and incorporates cross training, olympic weightlifting, bodyweight fitness, gymnastics, powerlifting, among many other disciplines. Over time, the methodology has branched out to various specialized crossfit programming: CrossFit Kids, CrossFit Football, CrossFit Endurance, etc. CrossFit now accredits trainers, licenses its name to be used by affiliate gyms world wide, and has arranged sponsorship deals with the likes of Reebok for exclusive use of the “CrossFit” name on apparel.
One of the focal points of CrossFit, and the crossfit community is the triad of competitions under the umbrella of the Reebok CrossFit Games: the Open, the Regionals, and the Games. These fitness tournaments eventually culminate in awarding the title of “Fittest Man and Woman on Earth” to the champions of the Reebok CrossFit Games. This competition catalyzed sport of “crossfit” or as CrossFit would like you to call it: “The Sport of Fitness” or maybe a little more helpful the sport of “competitive fitness.” CrossFit now operates a few additional competitions, namely, The CrossFit Team Series, and the Reebok CrossFit Invitational.
Through the popularity of the training program, and the proliferation of CrossFit affiliate gyms globally, numerous crossfit/competitive fitness competitions have begun to sprout up. These competitions range from low-level amateur competitions, to extremely competitive elite competitions, like the Grid League. Some of these competitions involve individuals competing over a few days, some involve teams competing throughout a season lasting months. despite their differences, all these competitions follow the same basic tenants that were originally established by CrossFit 15 years ago, and the competitive foundation laid by the Reebok CrossFit Games.
Who Organizes and Governs the Competitions:
CrossFit regulates its own competitions. It has its own competition rules, and its own anti-doping policy. The implementation of these rules, and the implication of their violation is confined to only “CrossFit sanctioned” competitions.
The vast majority of the competitions outside the Reebok CrossFit Games triad, the Reebok CrossFit Invitational, and the CrossFit Team series are not “CrossFit sanctioned.” Save for a public shaming, a violation of CrossFit’s competition rules do not directly effect an athlete’s participation in the litany of other competitions that operate within the competitive fitness umbrella. Likewise, each one of those competitions, whether a competitive league with a multi-week season, or a one-off event bears the burden of governing themselves: establishing their own competition rules, regulations, and standards as well as enforcing them.
Marketing a Brand:
The fact that CrossFit does not more widely govern competitive fitness events lies in its desire to protect its brand. Because of lucrative licensing deals, and gym franchising, CrossFit stands to lose a large portion of its revenue stream if the term “CrossFit” becomes genericized. CrossFit’s zeal for brand protection is clear from the CrossFit Journal’s (an online publication produced by CrossFit) legal page. There, you can find a number of articles on successful brand protection suits, but much less regarding sport governance and regulation.
Many of these suits involve gyms and sports product manufacturers using the term crossfit to market their businesses to their target audience, without CrossFit’s approval. These companies argue (for the most part) that the term “crossfit” is a generic term describing certain activity/training style that anyone can do. Therefore, the term crossfit cannot be a protected term, just like the term “baseball” or “hockey” cannot be a protected term.
However, CrossFit argues (for the most part) that “CrossFit” is a brand name that has created its own goodwill, which certain companies are attempting to hi-jack, which will confuse the consumer. They Liken themselves to Coca-Cola: lots of people make soft-drinks (fort their purposes, athletic training programs and competitions), but there’s only one Coke (or for their purposes, CrossFit). Generally, courts find this argument persuasive, and side with CrossFit.
Therefore, CrossFit stands to benefit from non-CrossFit affiliated competitions, and refraining from governing the entirety of the sport. Avoiding wider governance shows that CrossFit is one of many organizations in the space of the sport of “competitive fitness.” Therefore, the name CrossFit informs consumers of a specific source of a specific product, and ability of CrossFit to protect the use of that name benefits consumers, and is appropriate.
The Governance Issue:
Since CrossFit stands to benefit from refraining from becoming a governing body for the entirety of “competitive fitness,” how is the sport regulated? How does that affect those participating in the sport?
In short, the sport is regulated on an ad-hoc basis, competition to competition.
For athletes, this means a few things. First, they are subject to numerous rules and regulations, and competition standards, all enforced separately. Therefore, a competition violation resulting in a ban from one competition will not apply in a different competition. Likewise, athletes could be forced to defend themselves in multiple disputes with multiple competition organizations, (each following different procedures, and rules), for a singular action allegedly taken by the athlete. For example, an athlete could be charged by multiple competition organizations for violating each competition’s doping regulations resulting from a single alleged event, and be required to defend all of them in different forums.
More likely, however, is that since a majority of the competitions are short one to two day annual occasions, the massive cost of mounting enforcement of sport governance means that the rules (if they exist in the first place) are enforced loosely ineffectively, and irregularly, if at all. Potential Arbitration, possible law suits, or engaging a drug testing facility for enforcing doping standards are all costs that a single day competition in a fledgling sport will have difficulty covering.
Is an Independent Governing Body the Solution?
Should an organization come together to govern competitive fitness competition? Possibly. It benefits CrossFit, as they can further protect their intellectual property and good will by further showing that they are just another soda in the competitive fitness cooler. Likewise, it would (hopefully) create a straightforward and transparent sports governing system for athletes competing in competitive fitness events through the world.
However, creating a new global governing body will take away some authority from CrossFit, and other major competition organizers like the Grid League to control their competitions.
Ultimately, it would be up to these competition organizers to agree on some sort of over-arching governing body. As the sport grows, there may be a push to create a global governing body to meet the demands of a sport growing at exponential levels.
 For some simplicity, I will be using “crossfit” when talking about the sport/training method and “CrossFit” when talking about the brand.
 See e.g., The Crossfit Games Rulebook, http://media.crossfit.com/games/pdf/2015crossfitgames_rulebook_150106.pdf; 2015 CrossFit Drug Testing Policy, http://media.crossfit.com/games/pdf/2015CrossFitGames_DrugTestingProgram.pdf
 See 2015 CrossFit Drug Testing Policy Art. 11.
 It should be noted that it is often difficult to ascertain whether a competition is “CrossFit sanctioned.” Many competitions are sponsored by Reebok (the exclusive CrossFit apparel sponsor) or even the Reebok CrossFit Store, but make no other mention to a CrossFit affiliation. Although, it can be fair to assume that if the competition refers to itself as a “fitness competition” or some other vague term, and not a “CrossFit competition,” it is safe to assume it is not a “CrossFit sanctioned” event.
 See, Saran, Dale, If It Doesn’t Say CrossFit, It’s …, The Crossfit Journal, at 4, http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_CF_Saran2.pdf
 See, E.g. Burton, E.M., Victory In Quebec, The Cross Fit Journal, http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_Quebec_Burton.pdf