Game On

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Hoi An, Vietnam.

I love my sport, just ask my long suffering partner. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent absorbed in any sport found on a television screen. It doesn’t matter whether its tennis, rugby, soccer or basketball. I’ve even been busted watching lawn bowls from time to time. Knowing the rules or liking the sport aren’t prerequisites either;  I’ll settle in for the afternoon anyway.

A typical weekend conversation between  me and my partner while there  is sport on,  will generally look like this:

Me“This is boring.”

Her“Then turn it off. We can watch Mansfield Park!”

Me“Nah, I want to see who wins.”

Her“But it’s a replay.”

Me“I know.”

Her“I hate you.”

Being able to do this isn’t just aimed at testing the fabric of my relationship. Maybe it comes from my lack of sporting prowess. Having no ability encourages me to observe people who can function normally, like talent will materialise overnight. Until that day comes, I am limited to tormenting others by continually being transfixed with sport.

When travelling, nothing changes. I attempt to keep up to date with scores and will watch a match of football or rugby at any chance I happen to walk past the obligatory Irish or Australian backpacker bars spread evenly throughout the globe. Nothing says “come here random sports fan” like a fluoro sign advertising the next English Premier League match. Admittedly I don’t know much about the E.P.L. but it hasn’t stopped me venturing in to see what the drink specials are.

For example, while in Nepal, an Indian sport popped up on the T.V. in the bar I was at. The best way to describe it is as some form of team wrestling. Not the fake wrestling either, where they are oiled up for no reason. This ‘sport’ was different. A player from one team would take on four from the other, all of which were holding hands. So friendly. Then the bloke would tag someone and run away. It resembles a game of tag in a primary school playground except the stadium is full and they are trying to kill each other. The person tagged would give chase and attempt to tackle the tagger. Once the tagger made it past the half way line, he was safe. This sport was called Kabaddi or, as I liked to call it, ‘Indian professional wrestling’. It is totally ridiculous, but if you were a tad confused trying to understand it from my description, try figuring it out when the commentary is spoken solely in Hindi. However, I couldn’t turn it off. In fact, whenever it came on, I settled in, beer in hand, a bowl full of peanuts ready to figure out the rules of what equates to little more than an adult version of tiggy. I always walked away wondering what the hell I had just witnessed but was happy to do it all over again purely because it was sport. (Note: When I researched the rules, I had no more of an understanding than when I was watching. That I had to Google it with the description ‘Indian wrestling tag sport’ to find the actual name speaks volumes. YouTube it; I dare you.)

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Carrum Boarding in Nepal. These boys can flick a disk.

Other countries tend to have more mainstream sports. Vietnam always has volleyball on, Nepal is big on cricket and soccer is popular everywhere. Aussie and English owned bars are always streaming something, whether it’s a replay or not makes no difference. There are some places that seemed like they have the 2013 Ashes running on a loop. That everyone in the bar still watches as if they don’t know the result is testament to the stronghold sport has over a large portion of the world.

Sometimes the urge to relax and watch a game becomes too strong. In Vietnam, I discovered a bar was playing Australian Rules Football all weekend. We were only in town for a short period of time yet, on a beautiful Asian day, we sat from 10.30am to 4pm watching our teams lose. It should be noted that Australian bars are expensive places to get a beer overseas. It’s like they know that money is no object when drinking and sport are involved, jacking the price up from $1.60 to a whopping $3.00. It’s as though they have cornered the market, preying on vulnerable sports addicts.

Soccer is the clear favourite worldwide. Player jerseys from many sides and competitions are worn by small children everywhere. Actually, Liverpool and Manchester United are more popular by far. Either that or their shirts are easier to knock-off (I think the latter). When Vietnam played Arsenal F.C. earlier this year, it felt like every television in Vietnam was tuned in. They lost by six goals, but when Vietnam scored their only goal, it wouldn’t have surprised me if they called for a public holiday in celebration. Would have happened in Australia.

Sport has even got me and a friend out of trouble when we were pulled over by police while riding scooters in Thailand. The idea of being in trouble with the law wasn’t particularly enticing when the angriest, and skinniest, Thai policeman strode towards us. He proceeded to give us a dressing down, probably lecturing us about what we had done wrong. I’m only assuming this- he spoke in Thai so quickly it just sounded like he was humming. When he looked at our passports however, he smiled, then laughed. “You Australian!” he exclaimed, “You lose 4-1 to Germany in World Cup! Very bad.” Lucky that match was televised.

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Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

 

Sport in foreign cultures is as dominate as it is at home. I have trekked through tiger and rhinoceros filled jungle and still managed to stumble across a random field where full blooded games are being played. Street corners can be pitches and every bar or café a potential grandstand to watch matches. I tried explaining all this to my loving partner as we travelled around. But you can’t win them all, I suppose…

Wayward tip: if you’re struggling to find a game, look for Australians. If anyone can find a bar with sport playing, it’ll be an Aussie. Listen out for the loud, distinctive twang of Bogan English, mixed with raucous laughter and proficient cursing.

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