Obsessive shortening of sports: Is humanity’s attention span dwindling that much?

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.

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Harry Everett

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.

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©Sportexamined

Twenty20 cricket becoming T10 cricket, Tie Break Tens and Fast4 Tennis, Golf Sixes are all examples of traditional English sports being shortened to try and generate more interest. Injected razzmatazz from loud, pumping music, to freebie flags and signed equipment all have the idea of appealing to the lesser sports fan.

But does all this Americanised, short format sport take away from the pure form of the sport that has been played on our shores for hundreds of years?

What if Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal was to obtain a serious injury during the Tie Break Tens, four days before the Australian Open which puts them out of the entire first Grand Slam of the season? Yes, injuries can be obtained doing almost anything in life, but a risk/benefit analysis comparison can weigh up what it’s best or worthwhile partaking in. When the pay-cheque is $250,000 for three tie-breaks to 10 matches, it is easy to see why some of the biggest names signed up to the third event of this type in the Margaret Court Arena last month.

Golf is perceived to be one of the slowest, dullest sports to watch by many, but the introduction of a shot clock, very similar to the 30 second countdown used between Tennis serves, is hoping to change that. There has also been the increased participation in Speed Golf of late. The inaugural World Championships in 2012 show that this sport is being taken seriously worldwide and offering yet another variation on a quintessential British sport. The professional golfers well known globally do not participate in this new phenomenon of Speed Golf, it is an entirely new form of the sport, allowing a completely different crowd of people into a sport under the `umbrella title’ of golf.

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©Sportexamined

It’s worth recognising that not all sports have only had reduced forms created in recent times, Rugby Sevens was played as far back as the 1880s in Scotland. The world-famous Hong Kong Sevens event was launched in 1976 and has inspired many other tournaments from Wellington to Dubai to spring up and, come the turn of the millennium, form the World Rugby Sevens Series. This competition has since expanded to consist of ten tournaments in ten different countries, played in five different continents. Ruby Sevens is loved for more attacking, ball-carrying rugby, but others could argue Rugby League provides this over Rugby Union, it could be argued Sevens simply takes the League principles to even more of an extreme away from the scrums of Rugby Union. Rugby players tend to commit and be an expert in one particular format, but this does not stop players switching codes or dabbling in playing sevens as part of a professional Rugby Union/League career.

Cricketers however commonly play three different formats at professional level, whilst at grass-roots, club cricket leagues are only played as one-day competitions in England. The problem of players having to work meaning they can often only give up one day at a weekend to play the sport. It would be interesting to see how many current club cricketers would be interested in playing numerous-day cricket if it were offered to them though. Cricket is perceived to be a very slow-moving sport, and this is a fair description of the longer formats in the professional game. During T20 cricket however, fielders spend far less time faffing about between balls and overs, they all run to their fielding positions quickly, not waiting for the captain’s instructions, knowing exactly where they are wanted for a left or right-hander respectively. You do not see this in test cricket as much, when they are only expected to get through 13 overs in an hour, and that is without regular fetching of balls back from the crowd. If test cricketers were encouraged to hurry up a little between balls, thus speeding the game up as a whole, it could encourage more people to spectate and keep more people captivated in an age-old traditional sport. Players are so fit these days that the skill-level would unlikely deteriorate if the Umpires encouraged swifter movements between deliveries.

Boro Clinton Perrin batting (1 of 1)
Is red ball Cricket fading? ©JMSPORTPIX

If you were to (like me) have followed nearly every match of the recent India tour of South Africa you would notice that there was far more interest and Social Media comment on the South Africa v India test matches than the one-day matches, despite the former being very low scoring affairs. The perception that modern cricket fans only want to see big sixes launched into the crowd is not as widely thought. Some of the most exciting matches in all formats in recent years have been on bowler-friendly-pitches where both sides have really struggled to get the ball to the boundary, requiring real skill and concentration from determined batsmen to do their job. It would be silly of me to say that test cricket is not, to some extent, dying amid the short form love-in, but different people have different desires as sports spectators and because of that these new creations of short format sports should not have to extinguish the traditional longer forms. All forms of tennis, golf and cricket should be allowed to co-exist in harmony and the fan allowed to follow whichever format(s) they wish, as it seems to work quite fine in the different forms of Rugby.

Harry Everett

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