COLUMN

The case for Olympic croquet

Allan Fotheringham August 17 1992
COLUMN

The case for Olympic croquet

Allan Fotheringham August 17 1992

The case for Olympic croquet

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

The suffering voyeur—that being the average television couch tomatoe— has to put up with a lot. A lot means the mindless sitcoms, with punch lines telegraphed two minutes ahead. And the game shows, aimed at either those who don’t have jobs or those who don’t want or need them. And the talking heads, explaining why the Constitution retooling is the most important thing in our lives, more imperative than jobs or the economy or the pressing need to throw out the government.

All this being so, the boob-followers of the world deserve a bonus, one of those bonuses coming every four years. This is called the Olympic Games, supposed to be a spontaneous demonstration of the vigor of youth, of the muscle and stamina of the finest athletes.

So what do we see, encompassing endless hours of color television from across the ocean? From a country famous for the strength of the bull and the courage of the matador? We get synchronized swimming, quite the dumbest intrusion yet on what is supposed to be sport.

This is basic underwater crotch-peeping, somewhat equivalent to table dancing at the local saloon. It has nothing to do with sport, encouraged and fomented only by television networks who want a wet game show, a liquid version of the Miss Teen America contest.

Esther Williams, the passion of my high school days, would have swept the gold medal board. Except that Esther Williams wasn’t an athlete. She was a showgirl with a butterfly kick. Synchronized swimmers aren’t athletes; they are deep breathers who belong in a sideshow.

Since the Olympics are now run by whichever American network outbids the other two, there are no longer any criteria of what constitutes a sport as the Greeks—and any sensible person—would define it. If synchronized swimming is defined as a sport, what is next? Why not golf, the second-dumbest game on earth, as an Olympic “sport”?

The dumbest game on earth—curling—was accepted as a “demonstration” sport as far back as the 1924 Olympics and in Calgary in 1988. Curling is a way for people in northern

Alberta to keep warm in the winter, but it has nothing to do with sport on an Olympic scale.

If it has, why not croquet next? We are getting down into serious metaphysics here. What is a sport—as opposed to a pastime, a hobby, a harmless frittering-away of time so as not to have to indulge in conversation or reading (both of which may make it at the Berlin Games in 2000)?

We have a suggestion. If synchronized swimming is a sport, and curling threatens to be, why not typing—requiring an amazing dexterity of the digits? Stenography could be a gold medal winner. Shorthand should clearly qualify, since I know a short, thick Scottish reporter now a millionaire on Saltspring Island who, when talking to a Glasgow copper on a streetcomer, took secret shorthand scribbles on his notebook crammed in his trenchcoat pocket. You could look it up.

Once non-sports have been allowed into the

Olympics calendar—poor old Baron Pierre de Coubertin would not be amused and would be thunderstruck—one thinks it only right that true physical ability be rewarded. What about vacuuming, as any wife knows requiring the celebrated two-handed backhand manoeuvre to get hubby to lift his legs?

It is hard to see how bridge, requiring such mental agility, can be denied if table tennis, as it is, is worthy of a gold, a silver and a bronze. Could Scrabble follow? Who knows? There are those, skilled at the task, who will maintain that the proper packing of a dish-washer requires more acumen than that demanded of a javelintosser.

What we’ve got here is a clear distinction of what is sport—running 10,000 metres and flipping the discus—and what is not: golf, curling, bridge and all that nonsense. One supposes the differential point is sweat. People who pole vault tend to sweat; people who sit on a golf cart to sink a six-foot putt tend not to. People who play bridge do not have to change their shirts, not to mention their jewelryencrusted design sweaters.

The solution is obvious. It is to stage two separate Olympic Games. The first one would be for athletes and those who are actually interested in sport—sprinters, millionaire basketball bullies, Silken Laumann, the 13-year-old Chinese gold-medal diving champion who allowed that she sees her parents twice a year and does not know what they do for a living.

These Games, supposedly, would attract the real sportswriters who can actually translate yards into metres. As opposed to the remnants desperately recruited by CTV, including the instant expert whose previous international sports expertise was acquired by covering junior hockey, on radio.

The Other Olympics, beloved by those who stay home in the afternoon and like Cheez Whiz, would concentrate on lawn mowering, bowling (soon to be a hot item in Angola), hairspray and supermarket cart racing.

There is no limit to those who are not really interested in sport. The winning television network at each Olympiad knows this, and unveils new sports that are not really sports, looking for audiences who like to watch little girls in skimpy costumes underwater, or on the unbalanced beam, mindless non-sports called curling with golf undoubtedly yet to come, and Scrabble and dining room vacuuming lurking in the future.

The Olympics of the future are the successor of the game shows, shown every afternoon, five days a week, Vanna White the compere, not so much a sport as a boring soporific.