Ken Jones: The new breed of spectator just wants to experience being at the party

One of the most reliable clichés of sports reporting, print and electronic, is the phrase: "Millions of people around the world will be watching..." If this is demonstrably true of great events that are beamed across continents and time zones to a vast international audience, it has helped to create a type of spectator who puts the event above the action.

One of the most reliable clichés of sports reporting, print and electronic, is the phrase: "Millions of people around the world will be watching..." If this is demonstrably true of great events that are beamed across continents and time zones to a vast international audience, it has helped to create a type of spectator who puts the event above the action.

I can't imagine, for example, that the people of Japan and South Korea gave a hoot about technical matters in the recent World Cup and probably did not even notice that there was not one great team or one truly great player out there. It was enough to be at the party, to invest it with their colour and boundless enthusiasm. No brighter star crossed their eyes than David Beckham who, unfortunately for England, was more effective in the fashion stakes than he was on the field.

It is when this perspective flourishes in populations with a long history of exposure to the dramas of sport that you begin to wonder. It is fine for entrepreneurs and administrative bodies, fine for the professional games' players and their agents, but there is no guarantee that the games themselves can thrive simply on the urge to be there.

A pretty sure bet is that the Open Championship at Muirfield next week will be watched live by any number of people for whom golf is an unfathomable mystery. Some pushing children in prams, it will be enough for them to say that they saw Tiger Woods in the flesh, if only from a distance. At the hint of a British challenge, flags will be unfurled, banners unfolded.

At a guess, plenty of people who queued overnight for places at Wimbledon, or helped to populate the vantage point now ludicrously known as Henman Hill, were merely there for the experience. It is a lesson in imagination, the desire to be actively involved when all the doors are being unlocked on a great sports event, every feat and mishap recorded and broadcast. Golf and tennis are not alone with this phenomenon. It is equally manifest when the England rugby team turns out at Twickenham. Frequently, on the train from Waterloo you are in the company of people who are exclusively patriots.

Not so long ago, I attended a boxing promotion in Manchester that featured Naseem Hamed when he was drawing huge support from a younger generation, few of whom could be described as genuine fight fans. It was Hamed's flash style, his brashness, the bizarre entrances that drew them. On the undercard that night there was a terrific contest between Carl Thompson and Chris Eubank for the World Boxing Organisation cruiserweight championship. A war from first to last round, it caused consternation in sections of the audience unfamiliar with the realities of prizefighting. Looking around the packed arena I saw young women hiding behind their hands in horror. One vomited into the lap of her boyfriend.

All right, say the modern sages, nobody forced those young women to attend. And, of course, a boxing arena is always likely to test the stomach of spectators coming fresh to the sport as a live rather than a television experience. "God, I didn't realise how hard fighters hit," said a friend who until then had only watched boxing from an armchair.

Let us be clear about the kind of sports watchers I have in mind. We are not not talking about people who have grown up with a feeling for sport. We are not talking about people who are prepared to make tedious journeys to follow a football team, people whose lives are made better or worse by the team's performance. We are talking about people who are attracted to sport events much as they are to the theatre by a must-see musical, to the cinema by a film breaking records at the box office. Got to see it, got to be there.

I know a man who would not cross the street to watch a sports event unless he is guaranteed the comforts of corporate entertainment. A friend who thinks deeply about these things says: "None of the people you describe are really interested in sport." This is not strictly true. I have come across at least a dozen in the last five years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album