Tuesday, January 21, 2014

That's not a sport!

A couple of weeks ago, there was a column in the Irish Times about the World Darts Championships that were ongoing at the time it was written. The author stated that darts is not a sport. While he is ofcourse totally wrong, it was an entertaining column but it was his reasoning that showed that did not understand what he was talking about. According to the writer, darts is not a sport because, as he argued, a sport must make you sweat and darts did not fit his totally random criterium. The main thing undermining his logic was ofcourse that he uses the first sentence of his column to set out his opinion and then in the second he immediately knocks the foundation out from underneath it. 

Anyone who has ever watched darts on tv will tell you that darts players do sweat. A LOT. Now I know what you are going to say, and you are right. Darts players don’t sweat profusely because of their athletic exertion, but because they’re fat drunks who have been put under an industrial lighting rig by Sky Sports. But that’s not even the main problem I had with the guy’s view on what is and what isn’t a sport. In my personal guidelines, a sport has to have a ball, a target or a finishing line. That is a much broader group of criteria to use and, as we will see, is a lot better to define what is or isn’t a sport. This will become clear when you examine the columnist’s “must sweat” argument. 

                                                                A true Champion.

Let’s start with the noblest of all sporting events- the Olympic games. Everybody is there to play rather than to win, and people are not there for the money but for the joy of being part of a special occasion(and to get a sponsor deal with Nike, but no participant will ever admit that). The Olympics are sport in its purest form. However, if we go by mr. Newspaperman’s ‘Sweat is the word’ standard, half the events at the Olympics don’t qualify as a sport.

Let’s look at the mother of all sports: Athletics. Apart from the events that involve running a certain distance (100 metres, 5000 metres, marathon etc.) most athletics events don’t make the participants sweat. Javelin, discus, shot put and hammer throw are all events where the athlete makes a 20 or 30 yard approach run, then throws their chosen object into the middle distance and sit down again for 20 or 30 minutes. Hey, I can do that without breaking a sweat. Shot put is especially lame in that area. The athlete doesn’t even make an approach but simpy spins around a circle once or twice and throws a petanque ball onto the field. Long jump, triple jump and high jump go by the same pattern: the athlete takes a 40 yard run and then jumps, lands and sits down for half an hour playing Candy Crush on their phone while the others take their turns. Again, I can do that sweat free and believe me, I am much closer to the physique of Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis than I am to Usain Bolt.

                                                                        An athlete at work

Let’s leave athletics for now and have a look at some of the other sports in the Olympics. Fencing is insanely boring to begin with, and if you watch it on tv for 5 minutes, which is the time you can watch it before falling asleep, even if you have 5 cans of Red Bull and half a salt shaker full of cocaine running through your system, you will see that the athletes hardly move. They just stand there, waiting for the other to move, and because the opponent sticks with the same strategy, it’s about as physically demanding as reading the paper while you’re waiting for the bus. Archery and anything involving shooting a target: even less action- just stand still, aim, shoot and sit down again. 

                                                            Yeah, top sport.

Things don’t get a whole lot better outside of the Olympics. Take the great sport of baseball, popular around the world. The players just stand there while the pitcher throws balls at the guy holding the bat. When they do eventually hit the ball, the player has to run to first base and the field player in the line of the hit has to move towards the ball and throw it to the base where it is most likely to arrive before the player. And then everybody takes their position again and waits until the batsman hits the ball again. It’s basically prolonged periods of standing, followed by about 10 seconds of frenzy, and then back to standing around again. If you watch a lot of baseball, like me, you will notice that a lot of baseball players walk around with dartsplayer-like beerbellies. You won’t see that in football or basketball where the players are constantly in motion.

When talking about baseball, you automatically make the link to cricket, a game with striking similarities to baseball. It has the same basic framework as baseball: players stand around for a while until the player at bat  manages to hit the ball. In cricket however, there is some further element to standing around. For one, cricket players don’t have to hit the ball, as they would in baseball. They can let as many balls fly by as they please and they won’t be struck out or anything. Then, when a hit is finally realised, there are a couple of possibilities. If the ball flies straight off the field, the player is automatically awarded 6 runs(points) without the necessity of running up and down between the wickets. Ball bounces off the pitch? 4 runs without the player moving an inch. The only time when instant action is required is when the ball stays in play after being hit because then the batsman does have to run up and down the wicket to collect runs. Still in this scenario, it is very rare that more than 2 runs are scored, so activity is limited. There is probably someone reading this who says “ but Lennard, I’ve seen cricket on tv once or twice and I really did see the players sweat!”. True, and you know why that is? That’s because, apart from England, cricket is only popular in countries with tropical climates, like Australia and India and Jamaica. That’s the reason they sweat, not because they are constantly engaged in demanding physical activity.

Platform diving is another sport that does not require the athlete to do anything that will get him tired, apart from climbing the steps to the platform. Once there, you jump into a nice cool swimming pool and you can sit down again. Golf: lots of walking, but at a leisurely pace. Then you hit a small ball 200 yards ahead and you can shuffle over and shoot again.

In winter, you can also get around practising sports without straining yourself too much. Bobsled only takes some muscle flexing at the very start of the race and then you just sit down and hope your bobsled doesn’t shoot off the track and kills you and your team mates instantly. Luge is even more dangerous but still not actually very demanding. Ski jumping is also rather dangerous, but you basically just throw yourself off the ramp and try not to break every bone in your body. I’m not saying that all these things don’t require skill or insight, it’s just that you won’t get very tired using them. And I’m not even going to start about curling.

And darts is not a sport?

Getting back to the statements at the start of the story, I think that I have proven that my rules of ball/target/finishing line are way better than the ‘Sweat talks’ thing the columnist came up with. I often get caught up in heated debates over whether snooker or golf or darts are real sports and this will probably never end. I guess this is because few people are as fanatically interested in sport as I am and even fewer are willing to spend an entire night in the pub discussing the finer points of why something should or shouldn’t be considered a sport.

I would love to stay and talk about this a bit longer, but it is time for my exercise session. I won the coin toss and I’m first to break on the pool table.

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