Hop to it! Harking back to an innocent ‘70s youth of balmy summers and winter power cuts, when even Space Invaders had yet to land, a friend gets in touch to sense-check his vision for an organised sport of space hopper racing. Sad sack that I am, my thoughts instantly turn to governance, and the possibility of creating an international federation with attendant opportunities for fat-cattery.
A quick online search only throws up charity space hopper races in aid of injured jockeys (equine ones, not hopping ones) and companies selling hopper racing games for the back garden or stag and hen parties. My mate’s dream of cornering the market for 400m races in packed stadia seems intact. Why not extend it to off-road trail events with hills, mud and water jumps? Or even road races culminating at iconic tourist sites – Buckingham Palace, the Brandenburg Gate or Central Park perhaps?
If the concept catches on, expect squabbles about control to follow: of the rules and regulations, membership, event licensing, anti-doping protocols and the like. All cloaked in an ambition for the sport to be admitted to the Olympics within the next couple of decades. For such is the fate of all new sports, from ultimate frisbee to esports.
Padel and pickleball are two racket sports about as old as space hoppers but which have exploded into the sporting consciousness over the past couple of years on a wave of PR. Celebrity endorsements and investment have been front and centre, from Andy Murray in padel to Hollywood A-listers in pickleball.
It seems there is room for both sports – at least until fitness fashion turns – although not without internecine racket warfare. There has been a bitter legal battle this year between two professional padel tours, with the freedom of players to choose where to ply their trade at its heart. Moreover, only last month the International Padel Federation saw off an attempt by the International Tennis Federation to take over governance of the sport. With many national tennis bodies already controlling padel on their own soil, this may prove a temporary reprieve.
Why would the ITF want the headache of overseeing a whole new sport? It can only be the threat it perceives from a game that is easier for newbies and the less sporty to master. Plus the natural craving of those in positions of power to be ever more powerful, a seemingly universal condition that afflicts the leaders of world sport.
What about pelota and fives, though? Scope surely for someone to take each of them mainstream and bid for an Olympics slot. Not even rackets needed for fives, but two versions of the game to confuse. Rugby or Eton? Another job for Boris maybe?
Rock the Casbah
As the World Cup group stages drew to a close, a Sport inc. reader asked:
“With the way results are going in Qatar, is it because the big guns are relatively weaker or because the minnows are stronger than prior years? My suspicion is a little bit of both with an element of age being thrown into the mix.”
Now that the quarter final line-up is resolved, Morocco having struck a big blow for the minnows, it seems a good time to look ahead to the 2026 edition in the US, Mexico and Canada which will see the finals expanded from 32 nations to 48, resulting in 80 rather than 64 matches.
The winning team in 2026 will only play the same number of games as currently – seven – so in one way the potential for shocks is unchanged. But European representation rises from 13 to 16 nations, which might mean an extra heavyweight qualifies – think Italy this time around. The same is true of other regions, albeit with different ratios. So more big guns to be shocked.
The principal winners from an expanded competition are Asia, whose minimum number of qualifiers doubles to eight, and Africa with a jump from five to nine or 10. The current plan, still subject to change, is for groups of only three nations, which would likely be messy with goal difference, goals scored and yellow and red cards looming even larger in the mix. And increased jeopardy of collusion in the final group matches. Fifa is even contemplating penalty shootouts to decide drawn group games.
But, whatever competition format is eventually chosen, after the football we’ve seen so far in Qatar it‘s hard to deny the appeal of a broader tournament. Of course, Gianni Infantino’s hold over the affections of football’s smaller and poorer nations – and so his iron grip on power – will be even greater as a result.
In the flesh
To the TD Arena to see the Boston Celtics up close from courtside. Watching the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum reminded me once again of the impossibility of conveying the skill and athleticism of the greatest sportspeople through the two dimensions of a screen. Just as live music is best experienced, well, live.
You can try to get a sense of 24 year-old Tatum’s exceptional performance last Thursday here
For me, watching Serena Williams on centre court, standing roadside at the London Marathon as the elite runners glide past and seeing Olympic gymnastics have all been examples of the awe of sport only being truly revealed in the flesh. The gymnastics I‘ve seen at a couple of Games even softened my antipathy towards sports solely dependent on judges’ opinions.
Broadcasters resort to ultra slo-mo, multiple viewing angles, statistics and analysis to counter their inherent disadvantage. Some of which can be counter-countered in stadium – think big screens and earpieces offering commentary and ref audio. When virtual reality headsets go mainstream for those attending live sport the crossover will be complete. And will make those tiresome crowd close-ups so loved by broadcasters rather bizarre.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com