This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS supporter program.

I don’t tend to watch very much sport, but as I’ve learned in recent years this isn’t because I’m adverse to the concept. It seems I was very much born in the wrong country. I find foot-to-ball achingly tedious to watch, cricket ludicrously slow and uneventful, rugby okay but far less fun than I think it could be. Tennis is the closest I get, but I’ve drifted away from that in recent years.

Baseball is my sport. That’s the one that clicked for me. But exclusively taking place at 1am-5am it’s a difficult one to keep up with. And then along comes the Olympics. It turns out the Olympics is packed with sports I’d love to be watching the rest of the four years, and best of all, sports that I can have running on one screen while playing a game on another.

I don’t think I’d much paid attention to the Olympics until 2012. Not because of some newly discovered local pride (I was desperately hoping they’d go to Paris to reduce the level of fuss), but because of the massive advancement in online streaming. Switch on BBC coverage of the event and you’d likely have only seen gymnastics (superb), swimming (weird – if I wanted to watch swimming, I could sit like some mad perv watching the local pool from the cafe window), or athletics (field: great, track: intensely boring). I guess I knew there were so many other sports, but between the two BBC channels of the era, they would determinedly only show the activities that they showed the rest of the year round.

In 2012, the BBC Sport site unveiled dozens and dozens of live feeds of every event, from archery to weightlifting, with fencing, shooting and table tennis between. Best of all, the quantity of footage was so high that they quickly ran out of brain-free bumbling idiots to commentate, meaning you could watch without a man telling you a slightly wrong version of what you’d just seen. And during that, I discovered water polo, handball and hockey. Sports I enjoyed watching!

They’ve always been there! They’re not played once every four years – they’re played all year round! It’s just either with no televised interest, or in other countries that do things much better. Handball, I think, was the sport that garnered the most surprised attention last time out, with lots of Brits amazed and delighted to discover this entertaining cross between five-a-side football, netball and cheating. The Dutch, Swedes, Danes and so on were all, “Well duh,” but it was completely new to this little island. And then the British teams promptly lost every match they were in, and all funding for the sport was withdrawn in the country, and it entirely went away.

It’s back now! Along with the almost identical-except-a-lot-wetter water polo, and both sports sit very happily on my left monitor while I work on my right. Admittedly with the sound off if I’m unlucky enough to have a man shouting slightly inaccurate descriptions of the visual media, because it makes it a little too tough to concentrate. But look, when I’m spending my time guiltily playing animated jigsaw puzzles it’s really the perfect accompaniment.

Not so great for more involving games, clearly – with NMS about to take up my every waking moment, I imagine I won’t get away with sneakily watching people beating the holy shit out of each other in order to throw a ball into a net. I shall have to figure out a way around this.

But you? Is there a sport you watch at the same time as you play? And Fifa doesn’t count.


  1. Harlander says:


    You mean rounders, right?

  2. lasikbear says:

    What I don’t understand about handball is why the goalies all look like such schlubs. All the other players are out there are incredibly fit and outfitted in fancy athletic gear, and then there are two dudes in sweatpants waving their arms impotently around in front of the goals.

    • Premium User Badge

      Arnvidr says:

      Exactly like Hungary’s goal keeper from football. link to twitter.com

    • Halk says:

      Because it’s so easy to score goals, and impossible to tend, so they just stick their nephew in or whoever.

    • General Advice Bot says:

      I think it’s the attitude that matters. And shoulder length. The older brother of a friend was goalie and he once told me: “If someone steps into my penalty box, I knock them out cold.” Attitude and shoulder length.

    • brokeTM says:

      A Handball-ball (ugh) gets thrown at quite high speeds (up to 130 Km/h have been measured). It hurts anyway and a goalie builds up a tolerance towards it. But a bit of cloth between your naked skin and and a leather ball hitting you at that speed helps a lot. Hence the sweatpants, the goalie shirts are often padded.

      Also, did I say it hurts? think about the guy that doesn’t mind or even enjoys that hurt? that’s who becomes a goalie.

  3. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    No, because even if an interesting sport is on (i.e. all the skiing), I can’t do two interesting things at once, and I play no uninteresting games.

    But! To relate to you a bit and to be less snarky, a couple years ago I found myself surprisingly into the biathlon: Do some skate-skiing, then still your beating heart and shaking arms, and shoot a thing with a rifle. Highly skilled athleticism, but without the hyperactivity of some of the other ski events, and including some feats of calmer self-control and tiny explosions to break up the long-distance, loopy monotony.

    • tnankie says:

      I think biathalon has to be one of the most demanding sports out there, the only other similarly demanding sport I can think of is chess boxing.

      The thought experiment I love is “what performance enhancing drugs would you take for biathalon” all the drugs they take for shooting would have a negative impact on the skiing and vice versa.

      • Koozer says:

        I think you have found a solution to doping: combine every sport with another. Archery curling! Sprint boxing! Shotput rowing! Man, I may actually watch the Olympics then.

        • Phasma Felis says:

          Did you know that chessboxing is a thing? Alternate rounds of chess and boxing until someone is either checkmated or KO’ed. “The ultimate test of mental and physical prowess.” This is actually a thing, they have tournaments. I don’t understand why it’s not more popular.

  4. Skabooga says:

    I think it was during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but one night I stayed up late, and it was 2am, and when I switched on the television, they were showing Olympic speed-walking. I derisively laughed, but then I proceeded to sit there quietly for the next hour, mesmerized by all these people zooming around a track and straining every muscle in their bodies to not run.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    John, can’t you watch recorded baseball matches after they actually happen, you don’t have to to stay up till the wee hours of the morning?

    • welverin says:

      But it’s so very much easier to just not watch it at all!

      p.s. Yes, I hate baseball. So very much.

    • unacom says:

      Re-live is not THE-live.

  6. Imbecile says:

    I’m more of a player of sport than a watcher, though I also enjoy the olympics for the exposure to those less common sports.

    John, I’m curious what it is that you enjoy about say, Hockey, compared to foot-to-ball. To me they are very similar games in many respects, with very similar skills on display. What makes one great, and the other dull?

    • welverin says:

      Maybe he actually meant ice hockey, because he merged discussion of the winter Olympics in there. That would explain it (even though I don’t believe it to be the case).

  7. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    What do you make of the 20-20 cricket John? to me that’s a lot closer to baseball than test cricket; nice and fast paced, and over in less time than it takes for a glacier to form and die.

    That said, in the same way baseball clicked for you, cricket clicked for me. I could talk for months about why cricket is the best sport in the world, but weirdly no one wants to listen..

  8. deiseach says:

    I appreciate it’s possible to watch a sport for the sake of the action, but without the tribalism I find it to be pretty thin gruel. I thought I would feel less strongly about this as I got older and (hopefully) wiser, but the opposite has proven to be the case. I discovered the joys of baseball relatively late in life, but that didn’t stop me picking a team to root for and somehow fooling myself that it mattered (the Red Sox, if you must know).

    • welverin says:

      I’d say that if you can’t enjoy a game of a particular sport without some sort of rooting interest, then you probably don’t like it that much.

      I can watch any (American) football or ice hockey game and be entertained (assuming it’s a good match up), but when it comes to a sport I like less, e.g. basketball, I need to have some rooting interest or I just can’t be bothered.

    • Marclev says:

      For me its the opposite. I find tribalism quite off putting and prefer to watch a sport for the sake of the action, if I watch one.

      Just goes to show, we’re all different…

  9. pistachio says:

    I sure enjoy watching the dutch women’s handball team, they’re an attractive bunch. They reached the semis earlier today woohoo. Go Holland! *waves flag*

    As for the sport itself, yeah it is indeed quite entertaining to watch and I wouldn’t mind the sport getting more attention in the dutch media.

  10. engion3 says:

    Handball is about the only olympic event I turn to when I see it in the guide. That and US men’s basketball but I’m just waiting for us to lose in that.

  11. Edgar Allan Poes Toes says:

    High school rules

  12. Sandalfon says:

    I always watch sport as the same time as I play. I can’t seem to be able to focus enough on the sport to not get bored at some point.

    And yeah, handball is fun to watch, but it’s easy to say that when the male team of your country is the best in the world. (*wave french flag*)

    Concerning the sports I’d like to be able to watch i’d go for american football (without all the insane ad breaks of course). In France we only get the superbowl on television.

  13. Slazer says:

    Bill Simmons had a hilarious article during the last Olympics when he randomly watched a handball game because the stadium was close by and he didn’t want to further
    link to grantland.com

  14. reddog says:

    What on earth is happening in that picture?