Tempting alternatives to tried and tired sports

  • 2002-06-13
  • Philip Birzulis
The world has started paying attention to the cultural treasures of the Baltics lately, following the back-to-back Eurovision victories by Estonia and Latvia. Although Muzak whined in Brady-Bunch-era costumes may not be to everyone's liking, this is nevertheless a huge step forward for one of the world's more obscure regions.

Athletics are another matter altogether. Look at the sports pages of any Western newspaper, and there is a decided lack of champions' names containing the multitudinous vowels of the Estonian language, or the "s" endings of Latvians and Lithuanians.

That is unless Tiger Woods has some Baltic roots somewhere in his hyper-cosmopolitan gene pool.

In fact, until a few days ago, Latvia was one of just seven countries missing out on television coverage of the biggest carnival in the global village, the Soccer World Cup.

While there may be a few politicians in Moscow who would bracket them in a similar league with North Koreans, most Latvians were very ticked off at not being able to admire the grace of the Brazilian or Spanish teams. Or to join every nation bar one in rejoicing at France's humiliating exit from the event.

However, there are ways to turn this visually-deprived disappointment into an opportunity. Unbeknown to the wider world, the Baltics are actually hot locations for what may be the most exciting contests of strength and agility imaginable.


Beauty and the priest


While Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not guaranteed victory in these trials, they would certainly be up with the leaders. And their capital cities would be perfect spots for hosting them.

Latvia is a paradoxical place. It has some of the world's most breathtakingly gorgeous women, and yet its men are a dreary, sullen lot who are often not to be found at home with their lovely sweethearts. Usually they are either out drinking, or they are dead, giving Latvia the world's highest female to male ratio.

Of course, this situation makes Riga a paradise for foreign males lucky enough to be visiting or posted there by their companies. Judging by the bulging eye sockets and drooling chins of even veteran expats, the Latvian capital should play host to a tournament to find the most pathetic womanizer on the planet.

Strong performances would come in from the Italians and Latin Americans, whose whistling and cat calling would scare away the ladies and attract the attention of the jury. Also in with a chance would be the Georgians and Armenians, unable to control themselves at the sight of so much unguarded fake blonde hair.

The adjudicators would be strict, conservative cardinals from the Vatican. The winner would be the prospective lover who makes such a fool of himself trying to pick up that even the stern men of God keel over laughing.

They would present the champion with a golden statuette of a limp banana.


Hangover highs


Let' s face it, big time sports are an armchair activity for the vast majority of the world's people. However, the couch potatoes are not entirely idle, building up impressive biceps from the constant tilting of beer cans to parched lips.

So why don't these quiet physical achievers have their own drinking Olympics?

The natural home for this championship would be Tallinn. This is partly because it is at a unique crossroads between the Finno-Ugric and Slavic drinking cultures. However, mostly it has to do with the wonderful taste of Estonian beer; Estonia's brewers have had to create yeasty perfection to get something to open the lips of their notoriously taciturn people.

There are many forms that a competitive match between drinkers could assume. However, this one would have nothing to do with the speed in consuming a gallon, or with endurance tests such as the last man left standing at the bar after five straight nights on the sauce.

Rather, it would seek to find the world's ugliest drunk.

As already mentioned, Tallinn is an old haunt for the Finns and the Russians. However, they would get a run for their money from the Saudis, who know that Allah doesn't see a thing when they get off their prayer mats and go abroad.

The judges here would be a cross section of Alcoholics Anonymous veterans from around the world. The contestants who managed to have these guys open mouthed at never having seen anything SO bad would be declared the winners.

The prize for the top tippler would be a voucher for a free liver transplant redeemable at any hospital.


The fat loony sings


While Balts may have great pride in their choirs, delicate melodies and pagan poetry are not what the world wants. Unless they can put a techno backing beat to the songs about flowers and trees, and hike those tame folk skirts way above the knees, the MTV Top 4,000, never mind the Top 40, will remain a distant dream.

But Eurovision shows they have actually learned something about tacky tunes. So there could be no better region to host the world cup for bad music.

The logical location for this cavalcade of corn would be Vilnius. After all, it produced a singer for this year's Eurovision who came second to last in a field brimming with cacaphonic mediocrity.

The aim of the contest would be simple: the individual or team creating the worst musical performance imaginable.

Although being out of tune and in bad taste would be essential ingredients for successful participants, their entries would still have to fall into some very broad parameters of what could be considered music. Recordings of the sounds of fatal car crashes or bombs exploding on Afghan villages would fall outside these boundaries, which would undoubtedly prompt protests from exponents of electronic music feeling cheated at being excluded.

Strong contenders in this sport would be British soccer hooligans, having primed their monosyllabic chants in dank and dangerous stadiums in Manchester and Sheffield.

They would get a strong run from Australians, fresh from grueling grunt training at the Octoberfest beer festival in Munich.

Not to be ruled out are the Germans. Not only have their drinking marathons given practice to others; musicologists have discovered alarmingly similar sound patterns between oompapah music and the noise of various human bodily functions. Bards of old may have found their muses in birdsong, but the men in lederhossen seem to have a very sensitive ear to belching.

The jury would be a multinational selection of scientists hauled in from research bases in Antarctica. Having heard nothing except the squealing of seals and the crunching of icebergs for the preceding six months, they would have a heightened sensitivity to what terrible noise really means.

The winner would be the first performers who force these judges to flee to the airport to catch the next plane home. They may be tempted to take the platinum earmuffs trophy with them.

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