Maybe croquet could improve the ratings for the 2021 Summer Olympics?
Please allow me to explain.
The COVID-delayed 2020 Olympics are on track to be the lowest 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 excitement or interest in the summer games, and at least 45 percent of Americans confirmed they are not looking forward to the Games in any capacity.”
That’s a shame, to be sure. Billions of yen have been spent by the Japanese to host the Games. And the finest athletes in the world — gymnasts and sprinters to skateboarders — have been preparing their entire lives for these competitions. Their excellence and dedication alone should motivate us to tune in.
But a combination of COVID concerns and woke 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 if you want to play by the official rules. But I bet many people would enjoy watching well-practiced pros play it in the Olympics.
Croquet, variations of which are played around the world, is not unprecedented as an Olympic sport. It was included in the 1900 games, but never made the Olympics schedule again. I admit it’s not exactly an exciting contact sport, or much of a sport at all, but that makes it a perfect game for a modern-day Olympics. For starters, croquet is as egalitarian as any sport can get and is so simple anyone can play it — young, old, male, female.
Imagine an octogenarian “striker” from Wales wearing black socks and sandals competing against a 10-year-old heiress from Beverly Hills or a sheik from Qatar. If that doesn’t sound like compelling TV, I don’t know what does.
Seriously though, in these touchy political times when everyone is so easily offended by everything, maybe croquet could cool things down and bring us back to our senses. If a striker in a televised croquet match were to take a knee to signal a political protest for the cameras, for instance, nobody would know. Viewers might think she was merely tying her croquet shoes or eyeing up the best pathway to knock the wooden ball through a hoop with her mallet.
Croquet is a civilized game, but on an amateur level it can get intensely competitive, especially after a few beers. Friendly matches have been known to cause heated disputes resulting in family members not talking to each other for months.
But most of the game’s best backyard moments involve some sort of comic relief.
I’ve seen unruly players, including my beer-bellied Uncle John, get so frustrated they eventually yell “fore!” and smack the ball into the weeds or a neighbor’s yard.
Though I joke about putting croquet on the Olympics schedule, watching a few hours of the laid-back game on TV would bring much needed levity and calm to a COVID-wracked world that is in dire need of both.
After all, in what other sport, during the heat of battle, is it possible to consume hot dogs and potato salad? Plus, as far as I am 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.