Sheep counters go into baa-ttle

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The Independent Online

The world's newest sport held its first national championship yesterday and caused scenes that were likened to a stampede.

The world's newest sport held its first national championship yesterday and caused scenes that were likened to a stampede.

Those doing the stampeding were not eager spectators, but sheep – herded in unknown quantities past the competitors. For Saturday 14 September – and mark that date, sports historians – saw the inaugural Sheep Counting Championships of Australia.

The contest, the television rights for which have yet to attract a bidding war, consisted of several hundred sheep being urged to dash across a field as several highly numerate contestants attempted to, well, count them. The spectator who calculates the number correctly wins.

It may seem as abjectly pointless as kicking a round ball about a rectangular field, but sheep counting is an established profession in the Australian farming world. Counters work at auction yards, enumerating up to 60,000 sheep a day as they are bought and sold. "You sleep pretty well after that," said veteran counter Mark Jacka, who maintains, somewhat puzzlingly, that there is more to the job than meets the eye.

Sheep counting championships have been held for a number of years at small country fairs, but this event, staged in the outback town of Hay in New South Wales, marks the first time the sport has trotted into the big league.

Whether it trots smartly out of it again remains to be seen. As we went to press, an anxious world was still awaiting the result.

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