Great Britain gave the world a number of modern sports, including football, hockey, boxing, badminton and even – controversially – America’s favourite pastime, baseball.
But while many of these games will take
centre stage at London’s summer Olympics, there are several rather unusual
British sports that will go unrepresented in 2012.
As the world’s attention is fixed on Greco-Roman
wrestling, preparations will be underway for a different grappling event – the World Toe Wrestling
Championships, taking place on 25 August in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Invented
in a pub in the 1970s, toe wrestling plays out very much like a traditional
arm-wrestling match. Two barefoot participants sit opposite each other on the
ground, lock toes, and at the judge’s cry of ”Toes away!”, attempt to force
their opponent’s foot to the ground. A 1997 attempt by the Toe Wrestlers’ Association
to have the sport included in the Olympic Games was unsuccessful.
The traditional game of conkers has been
played in British schoolyards for more than 150 years. The seed of a horse
chestnut tree is threaded through with string, then players take turns swinging
and hitting another’s seed, or “conker”, until one breaks. The player with the
last intact conker wins. In 1965, the game emerged from the playground as an
established event in the small town of Oundle in Northamptonshire, where the world’s foremost conkers
competition takes place on the second Sunday of October each year. In 2011, the event was cancelled by organisers because forecast high winds
rendered the event ”simply too dangerous”.
A rather muddy alternative to Olympic synchronised
swimming is bog snorkelling. Here, the object is to swim through thick, filthy
water along two 60-yard lengths of a flooded peat bog trench, using only the
paddling power of two feet and a snorkel to breathe. The annual World Bog
Snorkelling Championship takes place on 26 August at the Waen Rhydd peat bog near
Lanwrtyd Wells, Wales. Rather amazingly, the event attracts more than 200
competitors each year.
In Gloucestershire, the common athletic
pursuit of sprinting is enlivened by the addition of a steep grassy hill and an
8lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. The concept is simple: the cheese is
rolled down a hill and runners attempt to catch it, which is no mean feat as
the wheel can reach speeds of up to 70mph. Cheese rolling has been going for
200 years, and its support continues to grow as thousands of locals and
international visitors flock to the town of Coopers Hill to take part every 4 June.
The World Alternative Games,
starting 17 August in Llanwrtyd Wells, will take place at almost the same exact
time as the 2012 Olympic Games, and will feature events such as wife-carrying
and rock-paper-scissors. Or, traditionalists might prefer Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpicks,
a sporting festival with highlights such as tug-of-war and shin kicking that has
been held annually since 1612. This year’s 400th anniversary event
begins on 1 June on the hill above Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds.