Chris Hewett: Kick the football into touch, tug of war deserves more rope
The critic without a ticket: Would an octet from The Dog and Duck end on their backsides at the first tug from the Tajiks?
Perhaps the only upside of failing to obtain a ticket for this sporting fiesta, apart from the obvious benefit of not being interviewed by Nicky Campbell immediately on arrival at the Olympic Park, is the illusion of being everywhere while actually being nowhere. Such is the glory of the interweb, as a recent Prime Minister might have put it. Last night, there was enough choice to satisfy the most extreme free-market fundamentalist: would it be Turkey playing basketball, Montenegro playing handball, the Dominican Republic playing volleyball or Brazil playing football?
The fact that Brazil came in a distant fourth of four after being lapped by the other three underlined one of the truths of the modern Olympiad: that men's football has no place in it. Indeed, it runs counter to the spirit of the thing. Not simply because Craig Bellamy earns more in the time it takes to question a referee's parentage than the best canoe slalomist ever to pick up a paddle will earn from a lifetime of dedication to his cause – only boxing now subscribes to the Games' original amateur ideal – or because a gold medal is some way short of the sport's ultimate reward, but because the age-restrictive selection policy dictates that teams cannot, to use the current jargon, be the best they can be.
Those of us of a certain age who fell out of love with the game's behavioural lunacies and commercial grotesqueries years ago still raise a glass to the memory of that astonishing Brazilian side of 1970 – the one-eyed Tostao, the wizened Gerson, the bewildering Jairzinho, the magisterial Pele – and even now it takes an effort of will to ignore a side clad in yellow and blue. But at the risk of being burnt at the stake for instigating this heretical attack on the Great God Football, ignore it we should: when decisions are next made on the make-up of the Olympic programme, the world's most popular sport should be given the Room 101 treatment.
To be replaced by… what, exactly? There are any number of candidates, many of which already have an Olympic pedigree. Tug of war, for instance. How good would some of the former Soviet republics be at tug of war? Georgia, say, or Kazakhstan? Great Britain are the reigning champions at this discipline, having given the Dutch a thorough hiding in front of what we can only assume was a partisan Low Countries audience in Antwerp some 92 years ago. Could we be as good in the professional era? Would an octet of regulars from The Dog and Duck in Nether Buggery be fully up to the task, or might they end up on their fat backsides at the first pull from the Tajik eight?
Working along similar lines, the swimming meet would be transformed by the reintroduction of some long-lost competitions: the 100m front crawl for sailors, for example, or the 200m obstacle race. The first of these treasures from the palace of sporting varieties was a feature of the Athens Games of 1896, charmingly described by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky in their great work of Olympic reference as "a rather specialised event limited to members of the Greek navy". In the interests of fairness, it would now have to open to everyone, although Swiss entrants might be a little thin on the ground, landlocked as they are.
As for the obstacle race… bring it on. Back in 1900, contestants were required to climb a pole and clamber over a first row of boats before swimming under a second – unusual demands that would surely have made Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin think twice. It would certainly have been more interesting than watching the profoundly uninteresting 1500m freestyle, one of precious few human pursuits capable of making for ever seem shorter than 14 minutes.
Andy Murray notwithstanding, do we really need tennis at the Games? The four Grand Slam events mean so much more to the double-fisted backhand brigade, so why not resuscitate real tennis, or rackets, or give squash the break it has craved for decades? Better still, bring back the exhilarating Basque game of pelota, which is to squash what chess is to draughts. Your correspondent once watched some pelota in San Sebastian – the last time he managed to a buy ticket for anything – and was captivated (although any sporting event held in a city with Michelin-starred restaurants on every street corner has a certain lustre about it).
Sadly, the average member of the International Olympic Committee (some of whom are too average for words) rarely thinks outside the box. The new sports for Rio de Janeiro four years hence will be rugby sevens, a reasonable choice, and golf, an entirely unreasonable one. Leaving aside the fact that golf is no more Olympics-driven than tennis, the prospect of the supremely charmless Tiger Woods barking at photographers before blasting a three-wood into the trees and hurling his club in the same direction as the ball is, to say the very least, depressing.
Better surely to have expanded the shooting schedule by reviving the "running deer, single-and-double-shot" event, last witnessed in Melbourne more than half a century ago. Apart from anything else, it would have gone down a storm with the Countryside Alliance.
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