Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 4th 2020
When watching is the safest thing
Though I no longer look it, I was an active person as a youngster and younger man. I ended up as a reasonably successful sports acrobat and my first university degree started as a sports science degree before I got into physics and majored in biomechanics. But I have always loved sport. Friends knew that when the Olympics were on, I was not going to be available for anything; Superbowl, the Australian Rules Football grand finals, the Ashes Test Matches in cricket – if I liked it, I'd watch it.
Now, I am the first to admit I do not like every sport. I find golf dull. Rhythmic gymnastics bores me. While I can appreciate what is involved and could never do it myself, middle and long distance running does not scream, "Watch me!" Ditto for longer swimming events. And don't get me started on soccer. However, even those sports (well, not soccer) can actually have me rivetted to the TV if I'm in the right mood.
In fact, the list of sports I have at least had a go at is pretty substantial. Those I've been successful at… well, that would not even make a list, I'm afraid. But I had a go.
Which brings me to this column. Now, I have not tried any of these sports. The only place I have seen them is on old Wide World of Sports styled TV shows or on the Internet. But they are all apparently legitimate sports and they are all great to watch. And that entire opening is culturally insensitive. Because some of these sports are not obscure in their countries of origin. Some garner incredible TV ratings and huge crowds. So how did I decide? I went online. I had a list of 20 sports I thought would be obscure and asked people to indicate if they had heard of them or not. The ten here were the ten with the lowest recognition factors (and I did put in small descriptions). The people involved were from Australia, the USA, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, Germany and South Africa. Not sure why – they were just the ones who responded. And, for the record, one sport on my list had universal recognition: parkour. Who would have thought the stupid stuff we used to do in the late 80s, early 90s (yes, I did a basic form of it with my friends before it was a "thing") would now become a legitimate sport?
Anyway, here's 10 obscure sports that are actually a lot of fun to watch. (In alphabetical order.)
Held each year near Gloucester, a bunch of competitors stand at the top of a steep hill (I mean, insanely steep), and then chase after a 9 pound roll of Gloucester Cheese with the aim of catching it. But considering it can hit in excess of a hundred kilometres an hour, that's nigh on impossible, so the first to the bottom wins. What do they win? The cheese, of course. Nowadays, apparently, a replica cheese is used after a spectator was severely injured by a runaway cheese. It is insane and people get injured and I cannot stop watching.
This sport has been around for a few years now. This is just the perfect mix of intellectualism and brute force. It is the Professor Hulk of sports. While its origins seem to have come from European comics and it was first done as a piece of performance art, it is now a genuine sporting contest. And why not? Starting with chess, there are alternating rounds of chess and boxing. It is speed chess. Winner is the first to checkmate or the one who TKOs or KOs their boxing opponent. There is a 60 second rest period between rounds. If at the end of the required rounds there is no definite winner, the boxer who is ahead on points wins. Actually, the video explains it really well. It is a fascinating look at what people who want a little bit of everything can do.
This sport apparently originated in Britain, starting as a bit of a parody of the then-current extreme sports culture. But, of course, it became a real sport. Like many extreme sports, the initial idea was that the ironing had to be done in the most extreme way/place possible, but they have had world championships and it has become a weird mix of sport, performance art and insanity. And who doesn't want to look their best after skydiving?
Simple sport. Two athletes are tied together by the ear with ropes or string and they pull until the rope comes loose or one gives up because of the pain. Based on a traditional Inuit sport, it is a combination of strength and putting up with pain. Blood is not unheard of and stitches are a common occurrence amongst competitors. Though it is only rumour, I have also read stories of people losing their ears. It is rough and it is vicious and it is car-crash fascinating. And it looks so damn painful!
We have an Australian sport. This boat race takes place on the Todd River in Alice Springs in the literal middle of the country. The problem is, it is not very often that water flows down the Todd, and so the boats are manned by "sailors" who run them the length of the course. There are a number of events and a number of different styles of boats, and the final race involves an all-out war with flour and water bombs being lobbed. And, for the record, when there is water is the river, the event is cancelled. Can't have water in a boat race!
Take volleyball, cross it with soccer's rules of which part of the body can touch it, replace the ball with a small rattan sphere and then let the athleticism begin! It is extremely popular in South-East Asia but little known to the outside world. I reckon that's because it is a sport of extreme skill and most people who have not grown up with it would have trouble even trying it. No matter – as a spectator sport, it is hugely enjoyable.
Another sport with its origins in the UK! This is described by some as the "British Martial Art" (not to be confused with The Goodies' Ecky Thump) and is exactly what it says on the tin – two people face one another and they kick each other in the shins until one of the competitors gives up. Simple… and dangerous. And silly. And so much fun to watch.
Hey, another sport that comes from the UK! What is it with the British? This sport follows the same sort of rules as arm wrestling, only done with the toes. What, did you expect rocket science? There is not much more to be said about it, really. Two men with bare feet struggling to get their opponent down. Apparently it was started because someone decided the only way Britain would have a world champion ever again was if they made up their own sport. Oh, Britain…
We go from England to Finland. The idea is simple – carry your wife over an obstacle course, one of which is a water hazard. It's a race, so it's first past the post. The wife must weigh at least 49kg, and first prize is the wife's weight in beer. It's very simple. I saw an interview a few years ago on some morning show with an Australian competitor and he said the sport brought he and his "missus closer together". I guess it would, unless you dropped her on one of the rocky obstacles. And the variations in the way the wives are carried makes this just that little bit more insane.
We finish with a Chinese sport that is also my favourite sport to watch on this list. I have spent too long watching this. Basically, it is a form of choreographed martial art, judged like a gymnastics routine, using weapons or not, with different divisions based on number of athletes in a group, what they use, etc. It is a part of a much larger sport, but this is the bit I love to watch. The timing and athleticism are off the charts. I love performance sports, and they rarely get better than this.
This is just the Chinese stuntman Olympics. And I love every minute of it.
So if you don't mind a bit of rabbit-holing and have a few hours to spare on YouTube, you can do far worse than watch these sports from around the world and wonder why anyone would want to watch golf ever again.
Happy watching! (And I'll finish with my old performance troop…)