Tambourin and the Olympics of Obscure Sports

The Olympics and Paralympics are magnificent occasions and the joy of the winning athletes is a wonderful thing to see. There are plenty of whines and complaints about what sports should and shouldn’t be included and I don’t particularly want to be drawn into a debate about it right now.

OK, I do. But just slightly. Beach volleyball? Basketball? Football? Golf? Tennis? Synchronised swimming? These are personal bugbears and, given the power to exercise kneejerk opinions, these would be straight out. But then I analyse the principles of sport and the Olympics then surely all sports where everyone can participate fit the criteria of sporting endeavour then it’s hard to deny any sport a place at the Olympics. Of course not all sports can be represented, there are simply too many to do justice to, so there needs to be some criteria that allow us to restrict what is there and what isn’t. And that’s where I run into a wall [not yet a sport, but one day. One day…]. Beach volleyball because it is silly and pretty much the same as volleyball. Basketball because I think it’s one of the world’s most tedious sports and, like football, is represented by professionals [yes, I know that pretty much all of the participants are professionals and that’s a moan for another day] and they already have significant competitions. The same goes for tennis and golf.

Like I say, there are hundreds of sports being played around the world. Easy sports, sports with tradition that can be played by all of us without the intervention of armies of scientists, nutritionists, shoe designers, trainers etc. I reckon there’s a space for an Olympics of Obscure Sports. A competition where we could see and enjoy these sports, learning about the world and our various sporting customs.
Here’s the first candidate for a sport I’d like to see more of.
I was on holiday in southern France this summer and I saw a leaflet for this in a small tourist office. There were a couple of matches being played at a nearby town and what more could you want for an evening out? The sport is called tambourin or balle au tambourin.

And guess what. It’s pretty much played with tambourines. Except they don’t have the jingly jangly cymbal things around the edge. Tambourines and hard rubber balls.

The game has its roots in the 16th century but its current form was developed in the mid-1860s and it’s mainly played in southern France, particularly around Montpellier and in Italy.

There are two teams and each team has five players on the pitch and pitch is on a hard clay-like surface eighty metres long and about twenty metres wide, with a line dividing the two teams across the middle of the pitch.

One player serves [often very high and very long] from the back of the pitch and the other team must return the serve, allowing the ball to bounce once at the most. If the ball goes out of play without bouncing or bounces more than once then the other team wins the point.

It’s scored like tennis but properly, in jumps of 15, so 15, 30, 45 and the game is won [with the same idea of 45 all and advantage being used to decide close games]. The first team to win thirteen or sixteen games [depending on the category of game e.g. seniors] is the winner. How simple is that?

This Olympics of Obscure Sports is going to be grand. We just need to find the other sports. Anyone for kabaddi?


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