Maybe croquet can improve ratings for the 2021 Summer Olympics?
Allow me to explain.
The COVID-delayed 2020 Olympics are on track to become the least-watched games of the 21st century, according to marketing research firm Zeta Global. The company has found that “more than 60 percent of Americans were unable to express any excitement or interest in the Summer Games, and at least 45 percent of Americans confirmed that they are not looking forward to the Games in any capacity.”
That’s a shame, for sure. The Japanese have spent billions of yen to host the Games. And the best athletes in the world – gymnasts and sprinters to skateboarders – have been preparing for these competitions all their lives. Their excellence and dedication alone should motivate us to tune in.
But a combination of concerns about COVID and the wake-up call from athletes using their platform for political protests has dampened enthusiasm for the Summer Games for the average American.
So why not bring back croquet?
Most people have played the game at a picnic or backyard barbecue. None of us were ever very good at it, and it gets pretty complicated when you want to play by the official rules. But I bet a lot of people would love to see well-trained pros play in the Olympics.
Croquet, variations of which are played all over the world, is not an unprecedented Olympic sport. It was included in the 1900 games, but never made it to the Olympics program again. I admit it’s not exactly an exciting contact sport, if at all, but that makes it a perfect game for a modern Olympics. For starters, croquet is as egalitarian as any sport can get and it’s so simple that anyone can play it – young, old, male, female.
Imagine an octogenarian “striker” from Wales wearing black socks and sandals and competing against a 10-year-old heiress from Beverly Hills or a sheik from Qatar. If that doesn’t sound like immersive TV, I don’t know what is.
But seriously, in these sensitive political times when everyone is so easily offended by everything, maybe croquet can cool things down and bring us back to our senses. If a striker got on his knees in a televised croquet match to signal a political protest for the cameras, for example, no one would know. Viewers might think she was just tying her croquet shoes or looking for the best way to knock the wooden ball through a hoop with her mallet.
Croquet is a civilized game, but at the amateur level it can get intensely competitive, especially after a few beers. Friendly matches have been known to cause heated disputes, leaving relatives unable to talk to each other for months.
But most of the game’s best backyard moments have a comedic relief of sorts.
I’ve seen unruly players, including my beer-bellied Uncle John, get so frustrated that they end up “for!” shouted. and hit the ball into a neighbor’s weeds or yard.
While I joke about putting croquet on the Olympic schedule, watching a few hours of the laid-back game on TV would bring much-needed levity and tranquility to a COVID-ravaged world that desperately needs both.
After all, in what other sport is it possible to consume hot dogs and potato salad in the heat of battle? Plus, as far as I’m concerned, any athletic event that has a legitimate reason for players to say “hold my beer” is one I’m going to enjoy.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.