Saturday, 24 February 2018

Artificial Everything

Fantasy Bob's faithful handful of readers might think it ill becomes him - a lower league cricketer accustomed more than not to playing on artificial pitches - to worry about artificiality in sport.

For the last 2 weeks or so, an enthusiastic young man wearing a fetching tea cosy on his head has bobbed up on the TV screen eulogising about half pipe, big air, aerial, slope style, free style and so on and suggesting that they are worthy of FB's attention.   When he is not wearing his tea cosy this young man is apparently a Blue Peter presenter and therefore worthy of FB's respect and attention.  FB suspects that the tea cosy could be made out of sticky back plastic.

Radzi Chinyanganya and tea cosy

FB has therefore spent more hours than he would care to watching endless series of circus tricks  presented as sporting encounters.  Skilful and courageous these tricks might be; mildly entertaining too; but the outcome depends on the views of a judging panel.  Like Masterchef. 

FB is eternally sceptical as to whether any activity can really be called a sport when it depends on subjective judgement in this way.  Cricket would be very different if after each ball a judging panel rated the bowler's and batter's performance on difficulty, execution and presentation - they might not quite know how to mark FB's attempts to deal with 11 year old leg spinners unless a category of comic entertainment value would be introduced.  Then FB would be a world beater.

But FB digresses.  His concern is that many of these events are made up.  New events are added to the schedule every time the Olympics comes around.  At the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble - when the great Jean-Claude Killy
Killy - god of the mountain
won 3 gold medals for Alpine ski-ing there were 35 events.  More than enough to provide real thrills.

50 years later in Korea there have been 102 - new arrivals have included big air snowboarding, mass start speed skating, mixed doubles curling.  Next time round in Beijing there is the promise of synchronised skating.  Need FB say more?

Most of these events have specially constructed courses with kickers rollers and dramatic cambers.  Artificial sports on artificial sites.  Have we lost sight of what is important in sports?

The Alpine ski-ing races are still said to be the Games' blue ribband events -  the Test Matches of the sport.  They are certainly the highlight for FB.  Man or woman against the mountain and gravity in a natural contest of courage strength and skill - who dares wins.  They delivered 2 heroes in Hirscher and Svindal. 
Marcel Hirscher - 2 gold medals

Aksel Lund Svindal - gold medal in Mens Downhill
But nowadays they also have an artificial element. Over 90% of the snow in the Korean games is artificial.  Put away any thought of inspiring mountain scenery - the pistes and the courses may be white but the adjoining landscape is a dull brown. 

It is hard for the stuffy old traditionalist like FB to take.  It is the same as T20 swamping Test Matches and 3 or 4 day cricket.  It is Test Matches played on artificial wickets.  It is this the work of the Devil.  Is it really a fit subject for a Blue Peter presenter?  The tea cosy may be artificial too.


  1. The former WFDG was intrigued by the Mogul, or some such, which seems to take place on carefully structured humps and hollows. He wondered if there was a team ready to recreate the course in order to ensure a level playing field!

    1. Indeed moguls are not a surface to face pace on.

  2. It is a peculiarity of the sport of ski-ing that an uneven surface becomes easier to negotiate than a regular one, since the skier can use moguls to facilitate turns. Such a surface is however not suitable for cricket, as WFDG will know, and this explains why so little cricket is played in Alpine regions. As for the artificiality of the Winter Olympic sports, it is hard to disagree with FB's observations - Avery Brundage, the legendary IOC past President, reportedly favoured abandoning the whole show, considering it incompatible with the Olympic ethos. Meanwhile it is to be hoped that FB will discourage sledging during the forthcoming season.