For years, debate has raged whether activities like golf, bowling, horseracing and others are technically “sports”. While I won’t argue the point here, I will state for the record that (in my opinion) any “sport” with the words “synchronised”, “rhythmic” or “dance” in its name probably belongs in the non-sporting category.
Anyway, over the last few months, a variety of questionable “sporting” broadcasts have graced our Foxtel/Kayo screens. Are these “sports”? I’ll let you be the judge.
Rock, Paper, Scissors Championships (ESPN): The schoolyard game is hitting the big time, and the major sponsors are probably drooling in anticipation. (I can see the commercial now: “Reflex Paper: We cover rock EVERY time!”) I would classify this as a sport if, and only if, they A) Introduced the highly controversial thumb-in-the-air “dynamite” option and then, but more importantly, B) Played with ACTUAL rocks, paper, scissors (and dynamite). Though the official World Rock Paper Scissors Society (yes, it actually exists) may have something to say about that.
National Spelling Bee (ESPN): On a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing like settling into your comfy chair and flicking on the TV for a nice, exciting round of…spelling? This year, the competition was so intense that the organisers had to call a draw, because they…RAN OUT OF WORDS! So, at the risk of stereotyping, might I suggest that the organisers swap the typical “spelling geeks” in favour of, say, contestants from the National Cheerleading Championships (ESPN). I’m not saying that cheerleaders can’t spell – on the contrary, they generally do an admirable job (Gimme a G, gimme an O, gimme an A, gimme an L …what’s that spell? …. um…..Anyone?) But imagine all the wild jumping and general pom-pomming when perky little Missy is asked to spell “ubiquitous” (“Like…um, you did WHAT to us?”)
The American Kennel Club Dog Show (Various): When did “taking your dog for a walk” become classified as a sport? Call me a traditionalist, but I side with the old maxim that “If competitors aren’t aware that they are competing, then it isn’t really a competition”. This would hold true to dog shows, horseracing, bullfighting and Orangutan Boxing (yes, it IS a thing). At the AKC Dog Show, competitors must endure the rigors of being groomed, primped and preened, followed by a simple trot around a circle before a judge examines their teeth, legs and backside — which, coincidentally, is the same premise as the World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships (Fox Sports). At any rate, why not put the blue-ribbon pooches against a group of emaciated greyhounds from the local track in a top-speed race around the stadium – the mechanical rabbit replaced in favour of the dogs’ overweight “handlers”, running with Schmackos treats stapled to their coat pockets?
iFish / Hook, Line and Sinker (Various): Ask a fish for his perspective on fishing, and he’ll likely indicate that it isn’t really a sport (see maxim noted above). Maybe the fisherman should first be required to persuade, say, one of the cheerleaders to put the worm on the hook (“Like, ewwwwwwwww! You want me to, like, TOUCH that? No way! Like, barf-o-rama”.) Better yet, why not get rid of the tackle altogether, fill the lake with piranha, and force the fisherman to wade in and try to grab the fish with his bare hands.
American Cornholing Championships (ESPN2): When I was growing up, the term “Cornhole” referred to the…ahem… anatomical part of your body where corn…um… ‘made the transition from inside of your body to outside of your body’. So imagine my surprise when this little kernel (ahem) popped up on my Foxtel TV Guide. With one eye closed, I took a deep breath and nervously clicked the “Select” button on the remote. What I saw was completely unexpected. Not only was there a distinct lack of corn, but there was also an equal lack of actual sport. Essentially, teams of two “athletes”, wearing oversized shirts slathered in sponsor logos for Frozen Food, Sausages, Inside Tailgating and the like—tossed bean-bags across the room into a small hole on a ramp. Yes, grown men playing Bean Bag Toss, in front of dozens of cheering rednecks, for $25,000 in prize money. The competitors, including one whose name was (appropriately) Jimmy McGuffin, were fiercely competitive, and we (the viewing audience) were introduced to terms like “4-bagger”, “Airmail Drop Shot”, “Yeap”, “Hurry Hurry” and “The boards are tacky”.
Needless to say, beverages were involved.
There were the obligatory TV commentators in the booth, as well as a reporter on the floor, chatting with the “athletes”, with the following on-court interview the highlight of my viewing (Note: this is an actual word-for-word transcript):
On-court reporter: “So what do you need to do to get to the next round?”
Cornholer (in an American southern drawl): “I gotta get it in tha’ hole.”
Reporter: “You were all energy in that round. Tell us about that.”
Cornholer: “Well, we had to win to get into the pro-am. We wanted to get into the pro-am. So we win, and we get into the pro-am. So we had to win. Wooo!” (High-fives his partner).
World Matchplay Darts (Fox Sports): Competitive darts is a worldwide phenomenon. By “Worldwide”, I mean the parts of the world where darts are actually played. So, basically the UK and its subsidiaries. Of course, unlike the traditional game of darts, competitive darts is played while sober. (Sobriety is, apparently, optional for the huge, boisterous crowd in attendance).
The rules are unchanged from the paint-dryingly-boring pub variety: You start with a nice, round number, (like 501) and you throw darts at a board, and whatever numbers you hit are subtracted from your score, with the goal of finishing at zero (yep, it’s a race to the bottom!). Some sections of the board are worth double, while others are triple. And this is where it gets really tricky (and riveting): They do maths! We watch, glued to our screens, as the competitors attempt to perform complex mathematical formulae to determine their next target (so…let’s see…my score is…16, so I need…double …something). Luckily for the audience, there is a giant screen that does all the maths for them, and a helpful announcer to say it out loud for those who cannot read.
Wife Carrying Championships: One of the oldest sports in existence (I assume), as it doubtless began over 40,000 years ago when the first Cro-Magnon man took one look at the cute “Girl-next-cave”, and promptly threw her over his shoulder, much to the despair of the other Cro-Mags who all grunted something along the lines of “Wait…you can DO that???”.
In this “sport”, which is an annual competition, men carry their wives through an obstacle course of mud, sand and water. The woman basically just hangs on, as the man does all the work. (Which, according to my wife, is the exact opposite of what happens in real life).
World Series of Poker (ESPN): Judging solely by players’ attire (sunnies, sports cap, logo-slathered jumper) you could be understandably confused into thinking this is a bona-fide outdoor sport. But let’s face it: watching a group of guys sitting at a table, staring silently at each other while trying to remain as emotionless as possible doesn’t exactly reek of athleticism. But then again, they DO stand up every now and then.
eSports (ESPN2): It was once said that the “meek shall inherit the earth”. Well, these days it should read “geeks”, as teenagers across the world are being paid HUGE salaries, to…wait for it…play videogames.
Surprisingly, eSports is a BILLION-Dollar industry, and (as my teenage boys remind me every day) the top players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money, sponsorships and streaming.
But is it a sport? According to my boys: “Who cares, daddy? Just please shut up so we can watch them play Overwatch”.
Like the Poker players noted above, the “sport” in eSports consists of sitting in a chair, wearing headphones, and moving nothing a mouse and tapping a few computer keys. And wiping the sweat off your mouse. And screaming. A lot. At your teammates, at your competitors, or anything else. Meanwhile, other geeks (er… “fans”) in the stadium (yes, a STADIUM!) scream at their heroes, who are screaming at each other while sitting in their chairs, screaming words like “Snipers”, “Fraggers” and “BOTS!”.
One popular eSport is Drone Champions League, which consists of (you guessed it) “athletes” sitting in chairs, wearing Virtual Reality goggles and piloting small airborne drones through an outdoor obstacle course at a million miles per hour – crashing into everything in sight.
Note that these same “athletes” will soon be getting their P plates in the real world. Just let that sink in as you drive to work.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest (ESPN): Not quite a “sport”, not quite “dining”, this contest is plated somewhere in the middle. (Betting tip: always put your money on the skinniest bugger.) I can’t help but wonder how this show would play out if they invited, say, the cheerleaders to participate (“Ewwwwww. Like, ohmygod, you want me to, like EAT that? Like, whatever. Do you even KNOW what they put in a hotdog, it’s all teeth and bones and skin and stuff. Speaking of which, has anyone, like, seen Tiffany?”)
Lightsaber / Sabre Legion (ESPN): They say that necessity is the mother of invention. So it’s no surprise that someone has finally…FINALLY identified the urgent need to combine Fencing with “Dressing up in a Halloween Costume”. (How did it take so long for this to happen?).
Essentially, this “sport” sees a pair of competitors, dressed in full combat gear, battle in mum’s basement using Star Wars-esque lightsabers (they glow, like in the movies, but I imagine competitors must evidently make their own sound effects – something like “Schvrmmmmmmm kvvfshhh!”)
As with other sports, there are commentators calling the “action”, with one particular observation that caught my ear: “This fight is so intense that Kevin just blew the tip off the end of Kenny’s sabre. So he’ll have to switch weapons. We’ll see if this puts a crimp in his style—if it causes his motivation to stall.”
The force is weak in this one.
Chess Boxing (ESPN): The first line of the show’s voiceover says it all: “Chess Boxing was never meant to be just a sport. Chess Boxing is a philosophy. Not in the sense of life; in the sense of survival.”
Invented by a Dutchman (of course it was) its aim is to find the toughest and smartest men and women on the planet. And, as we all know, this can ONLY be decided by watching two people punch the living daylights out of each other, before sitting down to an action-packed session of chess.
As the inventor so eloquently puts it “There’s a lot of oxygen going to your muscles, but not a lot to your brain.”
Sounds about right.
World Pool League (Fox Sports): Half the skill in billiards is in not just sinking that 5-3 combo in the corner pocket to a hushed crowd, but rather, sinking that 5-3 combo in the corner pocket, using a bent cue with no tip and no chalk, on a slightly askew table littered with beer stains from Lachlan and Kaz’s weekly high-volume Tuesday night domestic, in a cramped, stuffy, noisy, hole-in-the-wall pub while the bouncer, also named Lachlan, disentangles a gang of sloshed uni exchange students from their escalating brawl that began at the hostel last night and will likely end with someone “Going All Bruce Lee” with the pub’s only good remaining pool cue. To make billiards really exciting, why not combine it with other pub-related TV shows like the Darts Championship, throw in some bouncers courtesy of the World’s Strongest Man Competition (ESPN) (unofficial tagline: Pick up heavy thing. Put thing there) in a winner-takes-all “Cage-Match” filled with drunk and disorderly cornholers, a few cheerleaders and a couple of the hyperactive greyhounds from the AKC finals?
Come to think of it, that’s more suited to Main Event.
(Story originally appeared in Inside Golf)