It's only a game . . .: Sport is a testosterone-fuelled arena for legalised physical aggression, right? Not so with Tchoukball, according to Richard Simpson

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The Independent Culture
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.' A justifiable observation made by the author George Orwell in 1945, since most sports have long since waved goodbye to those gallant days of amateurism and have left their players to do battle under a new maxim: it's not the taking part that matters, it's the winning. But in a world where the likes of Vinnie Jones shoot to cult status, it is refreshing to learn that one sporting fraternity remains proudly committed to the gentleman's spirit.

Tchoukball, named after the sound the ball makes from rebounding off one of two trampolines, was invented by a Swiss biologist, Dr Hermann Brandt, in the 1970s. It was his aim, explains Gordon Osborn, chairman of the British Tchoukball Association, to 'remove all the bad things about team games,' and with it there has developed a strict code of conduct which is closely adhered to. The Brandt charter, for example, dictates that players should dismiss any thoughts of personal glory from their minds. 'A result, no matter what, involves no one's reputation,' it reads. 'From victory one can derive pleasure and even joy, but never the satisfaction of vainglory. . . the winning is an encouragement, whereas arrogance in victory carries the seed of a struggle for prestige which we condemn as giving rise to human conflict of every kind and degree.'

The game, played on a basketball-sized court, is fought out by two teams of between six and nine players and their target is one of the two small trampolines placed at a 55-degree angle at either end. To score a point, the ball, controlled either by their hands, or if necessary their heads and feet, must rebound from the frame and fall into unguarded territory before the other side can catch it. The rules state that while one side is in control of the ball, the other team is not allowed to interfere with play until they have had a direct shot at goal.

Brandt's idea behind this is that it should be a game open to anyone of any size or stature. 'A lot of people, kids especially, are put off by contact sports like football and rugby because they find it difficult against the bigger opponents,' remarks Steve Morris, a former county rugby player, who now plays Tchoukball at an international level. 'There is no other sport where you are so close to your opponent but where they are not eyeballing you. This makes its educational potential vast.' He cites a recent match in Switzerland where his opponents were made up of three generations from one family. 'There were two grandparents playing and we had a great game.'

All this may suggest a rather lacklustre game, but Morris is quick to refute such a notion: 'The ball travels between 70 and 100mph. You play a 45 minute match and you'll be glad when you get taken off. No one can run up and down over a 40 metre stretch for that long.' A point, in the more advanced games, is scored at a rate of about one every 22 seconds.

Tchoukball is enjoyed by over 1,000 school children across the country and by club members all over the world. A friendly rivalry exists between them all, which so far has not been darkened. A yellow card system (carrying a similar weight to the red card in football), introduced to the game in 1987, bears witness to this fact, since it has never once had to be pulled out. Maybe other sports could learn a thing or two from the Tchoukball code of ethics.

The question the governing body has to ask itself is how long will the game's reverence survive before someone like Vinnie pops up and puts his boot into it?

For further information contact: Steve Morris, National Development Officer for Tchoukball (0787 374434) or the British Tchoukball Association (0242 231154)

(Photograph omitted)

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