Winter Olympics: Why Should Snowy Countries Have All The Fun?
Why Should Snowy Countries Have All The Fun? (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The total 'Northern-ness' of the Winter Olympics. Apart from Canada and the United States, no other country in all of North, Central and South America took home a medal. Nor did any country in all of Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, or the Pacific

After all of the results of the Winter Olympics were in, The New York Times printed an eye-catching world map of nations' relative successes in the games. The number of medals each country took home were illustrated in the form of circles: the more medals a country won, the larger the circle.

This illustration was a useful way of capturing Olympic results, and had some pleasing aspects to it -- for example, the Norway circle was almost as big as that of the vastly more populous United States. And it vividly demonstrated the dominance of the four "biggies" -- America, Canada, Germany and Norway.

There was also something weird and unbalanced to the scatter-graph, which we might have difficulty in explaining to a bewildered visitor from Mars.

It was the total "Northern-ness" of these so-called Olympics.

Apart from Canada and the United States, no other country in all of North, Central and South America was represented by a circle (i.e. at least took home one medal).

Nor did any country in all of Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, or the Pacific. Islands (The Philippines, Jamaica) and peninsular nations (Portugal, Malaysia) were off the map, so to speak.

There is an obvious reason for this massive disparity between the "circle-nations" and the "non-circle-nations" of the globe: It is that the former get lots of snow each year, and others get none, or very little. How can Indonesia or Sierra Leone compete? They can't. Jamaica's glorious failure in bobsledding in 1988 made for a pleasant fantasy but simply confirms my point.

So, the world sports federations have actually created two sorts of "Olympic" games: the major one, consisting chiefly of track-and-field competitions, jumping, throwing and swimming; and the second one, designed only for participation by snowy countries.

Since there is no possible chance of ending the Winter Olympics on the plain grounds that it discriminates against countries with warm climates, I suggest that there be created a third set of Olympic games, different from the other two. I haven't yet figured on a suitable title, although it will have to be something like the "Miscellaneous Olympics," or the "Snow-Deprived Olympics," or the "Oddball Olympics."

The list of possible games and competitions here could be large and intriguing, the sole requirement being that the Northern, snowbound nations had no natural advantage; in fact, the contrary.

Just consider a few examples (readers are free to make up their own list as an after-dinner game). How about pearl-fisher diving, at last giving a chance for glory to the young men of the Greek islands, Mauritius and the Pacific Island nations?

I would also like to see competitive camel-riding, which is a really exciting sport. I can't fancy Canada's or Norway's chances here, but the United Arab Emirates would at last come into their own.

Then there is that highly serious sport assessing how fast contenders can climb up a 100-foot-high coconut tree, barefoot of course. The Germans and Austrians would have no prospects at all, but is that any more discriminatory than the ski jump?

There should also be competitions designed to improve the standing of nations that enjoy temperate climes but little snow. The noble French game of boules suggests itself here. Then there is pub darts, especially "round the clock" and "301." Many other traditional pub games, such as shove ha'penny, beg for serious consideration.

Tug-of-war would be a real North-South spellbinder, with Japanese sumo wrestlers and Tongan rugby players being the obvious pre-game favorites.

Some proposals might be dismissed even by the Oddball Olympics Committee as being too rude and indelicate. Hey-cockelorum, the wonderful team competition played by junior British officers in India (a team of six or eight on each side; the lead person sinks to the floor, kneeling in doggie form; the second follows suit, puts his hands around the leader's waist and his head between his thighs; the third does the same, and so on -- and then the race commences) is, admittedly, rather intimate.

Long-range spittoon races -- victory judged on the distance and solidity of the fluid so dispatched -- would obviously give an advantage to traditional tobacco chewers in the rural American South and the Trobriand islands but might cause riots in countries where chewing gum, and spitting, are banned.

At any rate, I hope the main point is clear. A well-organized, sympathetic Oddball Olympics would be the television wonder of the next decade. Humble villagers who had climbed coconut trees and ridden camels in obscurity all their lives would become international stars, with all manner of corporate sponsors scrambling to reward their peculiar talents.

The Kremlin, fresh from calling for the resignation of top officials in the Russian Olympics organization for a poor performance at Vancouver -- despite the country having no shortage of snow -- would have to sack everyone for the failures at shove ha'penny. Fox News, unable to boast of a new American medal every day, would be put to silence here and have to start covering minor college basketball games.

The Northern bluster would be over. And it would all be so much fun.

Why hasn't anyone proposed this before? This is serious, I think.


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