Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Five (slightly obscure) Sporting Events I'd Like to See

No. 5: The Eton Field Game. This is not a single event, but a highly specialized sport all its own. The Eton Field Game is two parts soccer, and one part rugby, with a huge dose of preppy. Played only at Eton College, the game has been going on since at least 1815 and is played by virtually all the boys at the school. But the Field Game comes in only at no. 5 both because it is not a single event and because better things await us at Eton...

No. 4: King's Cup Elephant Polo. Believe it or not, elephant polo is a real sport, complete with its own world governing body. Details of the international elephant polo scene are hard to come by, but the game is played in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the UK. If at times a little, um, lumbering... the game can also be quite dangerous. In any case, the King of Thailand hosts a tournament each year, which I need to see one of these days.

No. 3: The Boat Race. This is the least obscure of any of these. Watched by tens of millions of people around the world each year, the annual rowing competition between Oxford and Cambridge down the River Thames is arguably the biggest event for the sport, even bigger than the Olympics. The race was first held in 1829 and has been held every year - with the exception of the World Wars - since 1856. The race has been highly competitive over the years, with Oxford winning 75 and Cambridge 80. The course, 4 miles and 374 yards long, is quite lengthy (three times the length of the World Rowing Championship race), exhausting for the participants. Moreover, the race is carried out close enough to the mouth of the Thames that not only the current and wind but also the tide are factors; thus, teams compete for the best position on the river, often clashing blades before the umpire warns them apart. Lest you think this is just a boat race, let me recommend you watch True Blue, a film about the 1987 race. Oh, and the rowers: they're students too. Some of them even complete degrees including PhDs in Mathematics, or Bioinformatics or an MD in Clinical Neurology.

No. 2: The St. John's - Naval Academy Croquet Match. Yes, you read that right: St. John's College, that stronghold of classical education and extreme nerdery, plays the US Naval Academy in croquet each year. Apparently the students of St. John's once discovered that the midshipmen's code prevents them from turning down an official challenge to their honor. So the geeks of St. John's put their heads together and thought of a contest they might just win. The event - featuring outrageous clothing on the part of the St. John's team and fans - has continued for nearly three decades now.

No. 1: The Eton Wall Game. I promised more Eton, didn't I? Every year on St. Andrew's Day, the Collegers (students on scholarship) play the Oppidans (everyone else) in another unique game similar to rugby or soccer. The field is 5 meters wide and 110 meters long. And bordered on one side by a slightly curved wall. Which means the side of the scrum (called a 'Bully') is always brushing up against the wall, on top of which fans - in their coats and tails, of course - sit. To the uninitiated the game simply looks like a lot of pushing, but in fact it requires a high degree of skill and a great deal of stamina. In spite of there being only 70 Collegers and about 1250 Oppidans, the Collegers have managed to hold their own over the years. And there have been plenty of years, with the first recorded game coming in 1844. His Royal Highness Prince Henry participated in the Wall Game and did rather well for himself. Here is a little clip from the 1921 game, for your viewing pleasure:

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