Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Fever, Catch It! (Part 1: Handballin')

“Sure are a lot of handballers carrying flags,” my roommate quite rightly observed as we watched the Parade of Nations Friday night. Then, after we were done giggling at the term “handballer,” we realized we had no idea what handball is.

I was under the impression that handball was that one with two guys on a court who hit a rubber ball back and forth while wearing goggles. Only when Tad recognized the game I was describing as Squash did it occur to me that I also had no idea what Squash was.

Fortunately, a match between the French and Angola women’s teams cleared it all up. At first glance, it looks a bit like Calvinball – lots of running and ball-throwing and chasing each other around. But we quickly realized it was basically soccer, but you use your hands. And every three steps you have to bounce the ball.

When one of the players goes to score, the goalie (defending a goal bigger than hockey but smaller than soccer), largely unable to do anything because she lacks both room to dive and protective padding, just kinda jumps out towards the ball, flailing her arms and legs.

It is a fairly high-scoring game.

It’s also sort of brutal, since the only way a player’s going to gain control of the ball (other than that namby-pamby interception crap) is to ram her shoulder into the other player. Which was especially counterintuitive, since the court itself is a placid, calming powder-blue.

At this point, I started to wonder: How is this game not popular in the US?

- It answers Americans’ Soccer Dilemma by being faster-moving and higher-scoring, and on a smaller court which makes it easier to follow the action.
- It looks and sounds a bit like basketball. We like basketball.
- There’s none of the partial nudity that’s likely kept men’s water polo – arguably a more difficult game, since when you’re not playing, you’re still swimming! – from being comfortably embraced by many male fans.
Then it occurred to me that maybe it’s too simple for American sports fans. I mean, baseball and football have so many rules that slow the action down to a crawl, and apparently we love those two.

We had to retitle blindingly simple descriptive name “football” into “soccer” – a word that never, ever described anything.

It is possible Americans are really overcomplicating their own enjoyment of sports.
More Olympic coverage to come, probably.


thechicgeek said...

Do you know what the most popular sport in the world is? BADMINTON!

It's insanely popular all over the world, except in America. So snigger at your handballer quips, I prefer shuttlecock.

So it may not be the most popular sport, but it's damned close.

Threat Quality Press said...

Slow games help to make sports popular by making it possible to put in commercial breaks. I think that this has hurt soccer in the US more than anything else.

tad said...

Badminton is awesome, too. I was sad to see the Polish guy lost yesterday, but at least he beat the crap out of the dude from Estonia.