Sunday, December 14, 2008

The British, Sport and Sailing

Putting my feet up with the weekend paper (the FT), latte close to hand, was amused by a review of "Can we have our balls back, please" by Julian Norridge.

The basic premise of the book is that the British are better at inventing sports than winning at them, as our history at football, rugby, cricket etc will clearly show.

The invention comes from the combination of a historical love of sports in general and the strict order-the-universe mentality of the Victorians. As the reviewer put it:

"Britain had an unusually strong folk sporting tradition. The Scandinavians, by contrast, had skied for millennia while rarely bothering to race each other. But medieval English monarchs were forever having to ban sports - even bowls - because the participants drank, broke windows and got distracted from archery practice."

Sounds about right.

Sailing is one of those sports that Britain has a claim to and is included as a chapter of the book, covering the first yacht clubs, the starting of Cowes week, and of course the America's Cup.

One of the earliest if not the earliest recorded yacht race was on the 1st October 1661, when the Duke of York wagering one hundred pounds he could beat King Charles from Greenwich to Gravesend and back (the King lost).

And those races could be as rowdy as the land based sports - as the reviewer put it "even in a sailing race a competitor might pull out a cutlass". The incident in question (having stood in a local bookshop skim reading a copy) involved a race in 1786 when one skipper attacked the rigging of the other and "fairly well dismantled her" - and then lost to a third boat.

Unlike the other sports, however, sailing is at least one case where Britain continues to hold her own, as shown by the success of the Olympians.

And tonight in the UK that success might be recognised, as we have the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, and one of the finalists is Ben Ainslie.

Good luck Ben!

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