Is there nothing we can’t sportify?

Posted on February 22, 2011


Sumo, discussed in the previous post, is a rare example of a sport that is threatening to desportify. Perhaps the last one to do this was “professional” wrestling, which began as a version of one of the oldest competitions known to humans — hell, to beasts — and replaced the entire competitive element with scripted entertainment.

Mostly what we have witnessed over the past decades are non-sporting activities (read: activities that involve no defensive tactics, and often not even much activity) that we have turned into competitions. Far too many Olympic sports — beginning with gymnastics and continuing through rhythmic dancing, figure skating, and acrobatic snowboarding — are simply athletically challenging activities that we sportify through the miracle of “judges.”

We clearly love competition even when it doesn’t involve obvious athletic elements: poker is big now on American sports television, as snooker has been for decades in the UK, and (I’m guessing here) chess has been in Iceland. When I was a kid there were a lot of bodybuilding competitions on Wide World of Sports, not to mention beauty pageants that seemed to mean something and draw large viewership.

And now, in the age of reality TV, we have discovered that people will watch people do almost anything if it is in a competitive context (from glorified Karaoke to sweating off hundreds of pounds, as I noted in the preceding post).

This new cartoon, from the eponymous magazine of the city so nice they named it twice, is therefore, barely a stretch.

(Reprinted without permission. Will be removed upon request.)