The Olympics needs more playground sports
As London 2012 draws to a close, Australia's Olympic programme is, by all accounts, in tatters. Or at least we have fallen below the extraordinary heights we achieved in 2000 and 2004 after pouring vast funds into athlete development for our own Games, and now assume we deserve to maintain forever.
Even though at previous Games like LA 1984 we only won four golds in total, and were perfectly happy about it at the time, the Australian public has spoken. Our view is that 'Advance Australia Fair' must be heard at more medal ceremonies. Only dinky-di Aussie gold will do.
Now, we could increase funding for elite sport, I suppose. But rather than competing in events like long-distance running that require genuine work, though, why don’t we come up with some new Olympic sports? Ping pong is already there, and that made me think – why not push for some of the games we played back in school to be added to the programme? With traditional Aussie school sports on the programme, we’ll have the most precious thing you can have at any Games: an unfair advantage. It'll be like East Germany without the steroids.
I’ve put together a few suggestions so we can start lobbying the IOC immediately. John Coates should feel free to start talking these new sports up when he’s calling everybody to apologise for his son.
I’m sure that many people, like me, were surprised and delighted to see handball on the Olympic programme, and imagined it was the same as the magnificent game we used to play in school. But no – Olympic handball is like soccer, only you can throw the ball. Who wants to do that? Well, Europeans, apparently. What the Olympics need is Aussie playground handball – it’s a sport anybody can play with only a worn-out tennis ball and a piece of chalk.
In the Olympics, there would be both singles and fours categories. Of course, the competition would be professional-level. Which means no intoes or hoonying. And imagine if we had Hawkeye to end those perpetual arguments about whether the ball had its second bounce on your side of the line or your opponent’s.
This is what we used to play back before handball’s ascendency, throwing a tennis ball at a wall and then at one another. Brandings combines skill at throwing and catching with that little twist of violence which would make it an outstand television sport. I can just imagine the super slo-mo as the ball raises a bruise on somebody’s thigh.
Australia’s cricketers could form the nucleus of our Olympic brandings team – their ability to pull off spectacular one-handed slips catches and fire the ball at the stumps would make them fearsome brandings competitors. Ricky Ponting has the skills and the temper to be truly world-class – you can only imagine how much he would have liked to peg a ball at Steve Smith after that collision.
Wikipedia calls this ‘British bulldog’, which is what I remember it being called when I lived in England as a kid. Forget that – its name is bullrush, and that’s all there is to it. It would favour the sprinters already competing at the Olympics, obviously, and the chance to see Usain Bolt playing bullrush would pack the fans in.
In order to give Australians a chance of a gold medal, we would include not only the classic ‘tip’ version but also the ‘tackle’ variant that some of the rougher kids at my school insisted on playing. It’s one thing to simply tap somebody on the back, but the need to take them down at full speed would give rugby-playing nations a distinct advantage.
There was a period in the mid-1980s when the government ran a big ‘Jump Rope For Heart’ programme and we all had to skip regularly. That was well and good, but I’m talking about the version girls commonly play where two people hold a long rope and a number of people jump in the middle, performing increasingly complex routines while they avoid the rope. Medals would be given in the single-rope and double Dutch categories. Judging by how things went at my primary school, the female athletes would display a great deal more skill than the men.
A classic game we used to play at the homes of friends who were lucky enough to have a backyard pool, Marco Polo would be absolutely outstanding in an Olympic-size pool, and give the aquatic centre a reason to open its doors in the second week. Those swimmers like Denis Pankratov who swim long distances underwater are likely to be useful in Olympic Marco Polo, easily swimming right underneath the blindfolded person who was ‘in’.
Catch And Kiss
This was an extremely important game in late primary school as we began to experience those first stirrings of romantic interest in our classmates, and including it on the Olympic programme would give sport that reality TV element of frisson it needs to appeal to the modern television audience. Olympic catch and kiss would also create an event where men and women could compete together for medals – a welcome change to the usual gender divide in sport. Plus, given all the stories about condom consumption, you’d only be handing out medals for what’s already happening in the Village.
Now, I’m aware that these are all children’s games – but a schoolboy invented rugby, if you believe the legend of William Webb Ellis. And while some of these sports might feel a little silly, they’re no more ridiculous than handing out medals for beach volleyball and synchronised swimming.
Bring them on, I say. And I’ll be the first to cheer when Australia wins its first Marco Polo medal. At least it’d give our blokes some chance of winning gold in the pool.