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Opinion | Out of the shadows

Kevin Roberts examines some of the more exotic sporting fare on offer in one of the few summers without a major football tournament…

It’s summer time and while the living may not be easy, even we pale, pasty, cupboard-dwelling Northern Europeans get a couple of weeks to embrace our inner Aussie, hit the beaches, dine al fresco and forget that November’s just around the corner.

But for some hardcore football fans this summer is different.

This summer is the odd one out in a four-year cycle of major events which throws up the Fifa World Cup and Uefa Euros, Olympic Games (which is somehow okay because it includes football) then…. nothing. It’s as if the sports calendar has been left fallow.

It is the year when the end of the domestic football season in May brings a sense of loss which won’t be rectified until autumn, when the frivolity of the holiday season has been replaced by a return to normality and the 24/7 obsession is back. 

Wonderful sporting staples

A friend of mine suffers from something called seasonal affective disorder, a condition which kicks in when the days start to get shorter and the weather colder.

She feels as if the world is closing in on her and life loses much of its lustre. That’s pretty much the way that footy tragics see the summer of 2017.   

They take no pleasure in the wonderful sporting staples of each and every summer. They don’t care about Wimbledon, F1, golf majors, the Lions or World Athletics Championships.

We may empathise a little, but isn’t it time they got a life?

First up, it’s not simply that they are wrong in believing that football sleeps through this summer.

There have been a host of world and continental championships at various age groups, as well as the Women’s European Championship and qualifying games for European club competitions, which seem to start just as the previous season reaches its climax.

But more importantly, the absence of big football competitions provides a little space for sport to show its diversity and an invitation to look at some of the other events on the calendar.

In July, Wroclaw, Poland, hosted the World Games, where more than 1,000 athletes competed in sports including water-skiing, finn swimming, orienteering and sumo (pictured).

When the first World Games was staged back in 1985, it was looked on as something of a freak show, something reflected by the tone of a lot of the media coverage. It was portrayed as a sort of wannabe Olympics of sports which would never catch on.

But under the auspices of the International World Games Federation, the competition and its constituent sports and international federations have become a more important part of the overall sports world and of the broader Olympic family through their membership of GAISF.

The relationship with the Olympic Movement is evidenced by the decision to carry the World Games on the Olympic Channel, giving it broader reach and exposure.

The key thing is that while traditionalists may baulk at the prospect, some of the sports featured in the World Games may well go on to appear on the Olympic schedule as it evolves against a backdrop of changing public appetites for watching and taking part in sport.

It is no longer a freak show, but part of the mainstream and while it may not tempt our disgruntled football fans, it is an example of the way the world of sport is turning right now.

Sport and culture

At much the same time as the World Games was getting under way, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, was busy welcoming 4,000 or so participants from 77 nations for the 8th Jeux de la Francophonie – an event for those from French-speaking countries or regions around the world.

In addition to France itself, these included no less than three teams from Canada, Vietnam, a host of former French colonies and even Uruguay.

In addition to a sporting schedule featuring athletics, basketball, table tennis and cycling among others, the Francophone Games also has a cultural programme which embraces hip-hop dance along with digital and ecological creation, song and storytelling. In some ways, this can be seen as a nod to Baron de Coubertin’s original Olympic dream, which provided for competitions in art and poetry.

Now the Francophone Games are never going to be a massive global media property – they’re not intended to be – but they do again underscore the diversity of the sports ecosystem and a willingness to look at new ways of bringing sport and culture together and, perhaps, provide an example to others.

Look around the world and you’ll find a host of other events, each with its own fan base and each better equipped than ever to reach beyond its core, and engage more widely through digital technology.

They may well never attract the bored football fan, but if there is an audience out there, they can now expect to reach it or build it. 

Richer and more interesting

Out of the shadow of the mega events, 2017 is delivering a great summer of sport built on the hardy annuals and events which have often been easy to ignore. But for the business of sport, the real success of the summer is not a new or exotic sport, but one which has been played for hundreds of years.

Helped by host England’s presence, the ICC Women’s World Cup was played in front of a full house at Lord’s and watched by millions on TV around the world.

Its success has been built over the years and has accelerated of late thanks to serious media investment and funding, which have seen standards rise and interest grow.

Taken alongside the growth in women’s football and rugby, it appears the sports business cake is getting bigger, richer and more interesting without inventing new sports – simply by taking women’s sport seriously.

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