When your correspondent was a boy, there were four Respectable Sports (note the capital ‘R’ and capital ‘S’): baseball, basketball, American football and hockey*. Any red-blooded youth of a certain age was expected to enjoy at least one. In addition, there were a smattering of Semi-Respectable Sports (note the continued usage of capitals) like tennis, soccer and golf. If you enjoyed one of these, you were weird, but acceptably so.
There was also a shadowy underworld of Un-Sports (yup, more capitals) like skateboarding and martial arts, seemingly unrelated disciplines that nevertheless had marvelous penchants for attracting nutjobs. The hierarchy was helpful in many ways. The sports a person enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy, could tell you quite a lot.
A person who enjoyed American football was most likely a sociopath, aroused by violent collisions between armoured men in the world’s least-subtle metaphor for tactical ground war. American football fans were maniacally devoted to their teams, from high school to professional. They wore their zealotry on their backs, proudly advertising their allegiance through officially licensed merchandise.
It was helpful to have such an easy way to pick out idiots. These days, though, the idiots are better camouflaged. And they’re into way weirder stuff than American football. And we’re not talking about rugby.
A Growing Concern
The past decade has seen a worrisome diversification of the sporting universe. Blame can be placed at the feet of the usual suspects: the internet, cable TV, computer games etc. Pointing fingers is fun and lucrative, but it does little to stop the spread of this athletic epidemic.
Consider the case of Hardcourt Bike Polo. First played in Seattle in the early 2000s, this pseudo-sport quickly swept the globe. Today it has infected more than 300 cities in 30 countries. A contemporary bastardisation of traditional culture, it takes everything awesome about polo — horses, British accents, Ralph Lauren — and replaces it with a plebe-friendly mimesis as tacky as it is inauthentic.
While Vietnam is no early adopter of global trends**, it hasn’t been immune to similarly perfidious fads. As always, the problem can be traced to foreign influences. While Vietnamese sportsfolk once were content to slap their shuttlecocks around the alley, today they dabble in darker indulgences from abroad.
Broomsticks and Backflips
These days, your correspondent can scarcely leave the house without some reckless hoodlum leapfrogging over his back at full tilt, then clambering up a drainage pipe to prance from roof to roof. The kids call it ‘parkour’, though your correspondent knows it by its true name: anarchy. And its adherents are growing in power and influence, threatening to consume the wide world of sports.
They are the new urban guerrillas, blurring the lines between athlete and civilian. They wear no uniforms or insignia. They carry no equipment that might betray their intentions. One minute you’re waiting for the bus beside a mild-mannered student — the next, she’s doing cartwheels over parked taxis, spinning around streetlights, and running up walls for no goddamn reason.
Parkouristas aren’t the only menace facing the traditional sportosphere, though. Even in Vietnam, you can’t swing a dead cat*** without its mangy tail brushing against a group of weirdos united under the pretense of sport.
Perhaps the best example of this is Saigon’s burgeoning Quidditch scene. Every week, hordes of grown-ass adults gather to run around with broomsticks between their legs, playing an imaginary game for imaginary wizard-spawn in an imaginary boarding school. It’s madness, but madness is the new normal. The league has 47,000 likes on Facebook.
Yet these wannabe witches and warlocks are surprisingly hard to distinguish from normal people, once they leave the pitch. They trade their capes for Crocs and their wands for WhatsApp, and nobody’s the wiser. Your spouse could be a Quidditch player and you’d never even know.
Standing Athwart History, Yelling ‘Meh’
In this paradoxical age of ever-increasing individuality and concatenation, can our favourite sports still say anything about who we are? Do the old taxonomies even apply? Is an American football fan still a brute, and are grown-up kickball players still nerds?
Trends pass with the seasons, but some truths are eternal. Basketball will always be cool, because dunking a ball through a 10-foot hoop is dope as f***. Conversely, buzkashi will never be cool, because fondling the carcass of a headless goat is gross.
We should remember the true purpose of sports — to keep nerds in their place, and to give people with nice asses an excuse to wear spandex. Someday we will return to our collective senses, and the dark days of competitive bog snorkeling will be forgotten.
You can’t spell ‘fade’ without ‘fad’, and doesn’t that say it all?