Thursday, December 06, 2007

What's in a game?

Pool - a sport...

I was reading the other week about the world of pigeon racing, which has been dealt a cruel blow by the UK taxman. Apparently under their new list of 'what constitutes a sport', there's no place for drinking tea and staring forlornly at the sky wondering where t'bloody birds have gone. Pigeon racing is no longer a sport. Therefore, it doesn't qualify for exemption from business rates, and so the costs of keeping racing birds will soon be increasing. You see, sporting clubs don't have to pay that extra tax, so organisations like football teams, motorsports facilities, and the modern pentathlon association of Great Britain get off the hook. But what else escapes?

The body with the job of policing this are the HM Inspector of Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and they refer to Sport England's List of what exactly is a sport (and let's face it, they should know). Those not on the list are I suppose deemed merely 'games', and relegated to another list somewhere else. There's no such organistaion as 'Games England'. There's long been discussion on what constitutes a sport - I wrote a post on darts almost two years ago, expressing my admiration for the 'sportsmen' who compete under the glare of the lights at the Lakeside. Thankfully for them, (and me) darts is in Sport England's list, so darts teams up and down the country will still have their training lagers subsidised.

The fans of pigeon racing (and I don't mean peregrine falcons), are predictably - and understandably up in arms as things like baton twirling, skipping, and tug of war, are all listed as sports. I'm not wishing to belittle any of them - there's far more effort and skill involved in twirling a baton than opening a pigeon loft - but are they really sports? Is Unihoc? What the hell is Unihoc? Well, good question. It's basically indoor hockey played with plastic sticks, as a safe alternative to every other team sport. Also known as 'floorball', it originated in Sweden as is fairly popular in Scandinavia. What about Sombo? Well, that's a type of judo, and thanks to Wikipedia I now know is usually known as Sambo (short for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya), and is Russian.

I've never really thought of Angling as a sport - because it's essentially humans catching food. So then if anglers are sportsmen, so are people who forage for fruit on the verges of dual carriageways. What about sheepdog trials? That's not on the list. I know competitve angling has a time limit and at the end the person with the weightiest bucket wins - therefore it's a sport - but you could do the same thing with mushroom gathering, or cockle picking, or go down to ASDA on a Saturday morning and see who can pack their trolley the fastest (and of course that spawned the timeless Supermarket Sweep). Whatever happened to Dale Winton?

Canoeing's a sport (although if you finish six years too late, you're probably not very good at it)*, but rather amusingly, the one sport I was ever slightly any good at - Ultimate frisbee - isn't on the list, so my brother was right all along. Actually, I did agree with his theory that it was basically a sport invented for people who couldn't play anything else (which is why I excelled). Anyway, so whilst I don't really think racing pigeons can be construed as a sport - let's face it, it's a hobby - neither do I agree with half the things on Sport England's list either. Ballooning?, Caving?, Ballroom Dancing?, Model Aircraft Flying?, What next? Is Blogging a sport? I hope so, or I owe HMRC some serious back tax...

* Topical!

Sport England's List of Sports