I don’t normally post about this kind of event but I make an exception here; not so much for any historical significance but because it reminds me of a great and allegedly true story I was told years ago by a Swedish colleague (they do have a sense of humour, you know). I now know that the story must have been about this guy.
It’s on record that von Habsburg (who was born in 1912, six years before the end of the empire) was an MEP for several years. Apparently he went into the Parliament building a few years ago and found the chamber empty but lots of MEPs in the bars watching TV. Otto asked “what’s happening?” and was told everyone was watching an international football match.
“Who’s playing?” asked the former prince, evidently ignorant of such mundane matters as football.
Tomorrow is a crucial day for cricket-lovers. England are playing South Africa, until recently the no. 1 side in the world, in a Test series in South Africa. What’s more, against all expectations, England are one-nil up in the series with only this final Test match to play. If we lose the match we will draw the series one-all, but if the game is drawn then we’ll win the series one-nil. Add this to the fact that we won the Ashes by beating Australia last summer, and you’ll see that this could be a crucial day for English cricket.
As I write it’s the end of the third day’s play. England are on the back foot – an appropriate metaphor – and will be hard-pressed to avoid losing the match, which makes the situation all the more nail-biting.
On this important day for English cricket, comprising maybe six hours of play, how much coverage will I be able to enjoy on TV, either terrestrial or freeview? Nothing, nada, rien, nichts, zilch. Not even five minutes of highlights. I could watch it by subscribing to Sky Sports, of course, but I don’t think it’s worth committing to that monthly cost for the occasional overseas Test match.
So the BBC did not think it worthwhile to cover this series. What other sporting delights does the Corporation offer in its place? The answer is snooker, which dominates airtime this week in “BBC Sport”. (I use the quotation marks advisedly) Last week it was darts. And when I say dominates, I mean it: up to six hours coverage in every 24 when there is a major tournament on, sometimes even more.
No doubt snooker and darts are cheap TV compared with cricket. But are they sports, as BBC branding insists they are?
Right now, by the way, the snooker competition that swamps the schedules (especially on BBC2, which was promoted as the culture channel when launched) is called the Masters. No, let’s give it its full title, as a sponsor has no doubt paid handsomely for the privilege. It’s the “Pokerstars.com Masters”. I know this, because I saw it in a graphic alongside the BBC Sport logo. Maybe, in future, the BBC Sport schedules could include poker too? And why could not snooker, darts and then poker become Olympic sports?
I’m about to stop writing this before it becomes a full-on rant, so that I can watch the football on “Match of the Day”. I am not really a football fan; after all I don’t really support any particular team. Rugby is really my game and I’ve never played football except five-a-side. But I appreciate – and often watch with pleasure – the superb quality of English Premiership football: the skill and, yes, the athleticism and fitness levels, which seem to get better and better every year. (although some of the pundits say this is a lacklustre season.)
Where am I going with this? Snooker, darts, (and poker too) require great skill of course. But athleticism? Fitness? What constitutes sport and what constitutes a pastime? Discuss, as they say.
Simon Barnes in the Times did indeed discuss that, very recently. (see link) He praised the skill of the darts player Phil Taylor (no problem with that) and suggested that anyone who says darts is not a sport (and that includes me) does so out of snobbery. Well, who am I to disagree with such an eminent sporting journalist, but I shall. If you were to suggest that croquet is a sport I would say that that is a pastime, just like darts and snooker; snobbery doesn’t come into it. Tosh, Simon, no matter how brilliantly you expound it. Frankly I think it’s marginal as to whether golf (now to be in the Olympics) is a sport; or whether it’s “a pastime that’s almost a sport”, as one of my all-time favourite Dilbert cartoons memorably described it.