I was lounging in the great outdoors this past week enjoying my lazy days of summer camping and I was trying to think of what the most “democratic” sport was in the world.
What I mean is that it doesn’t matter whether your country is financially poor or rich, or is north or south of the equator - you compete at the highest level of a specific sport and are successful.
What sport is the great equalizer?
To me, the answer lies in more questions: What sports do poorer countries in the world participate in with large numbers and also compete successfully at the highest level?
To begin, let’s eliminate any video gaming, card playing type of games. (Sorry, I can’t get myself to even think of these games as real sports.)
Sports like golf (golf clubs, ball and golf course), skiing (skis, boots, poles and snow), mountain biking/cycling (bicycle), ice hockey (skates, puck, stick and ice) - I could go on and on - these types of sports require the purchase of specific equipment to play the sport, so they’re out. I’m sure if I took the time to look at past world champions of these sports, they would all come from affluent or cold-climate countries.
Of course, not everyone from an affluent nation can afford to join a golf club or head out to the ski hills. So the term affluent country are words used to distinguish one country from another and not to look at the individual economic classes within each country.
And if we dug deeper on the expense side, we would find that many of the poorer countries based on GNP (goods and services produced by a country in one year) don’t even participate in these sports simply because of the cost involved. Added to the mix the need for performance facilities and personnel to train elite athletes to reach world-class levels and the financial weight is just too great.
What about soccer, rugby, baseball, basketball? True, all are more accessible physically (fields, courts and pitches) and financially than golf, skiing, mountain biking and hockey. So yes, less advantaged nations and people would be closer to a level playing field with their wealthier counterparts.
And these sports can be played with one ball and no specific equipment as kids don’t really need soccer cleats or shin guards to play a pick up game of soccer at the park. Although basketball (hoop on any wall or pole) needs a specific item and baseball (one bat, one ball, no gloves and you can create a diamond anywhere) requires two items to play, they are still easier to set up than other sports and would involve multiple people playing with one ball - and with baseball, also one bat.
Swimming? This sport is close, but not the winner. Swimming doesn’t require any ball or equipment to play - but it does need one important ingredient to make it happen: water. Doesn’t have to be indoor, but you do need a pool of water. So unless you are living close to a river, lake, ocean or an indoor pool, than swimming is not an available sport.
I think the most available sport to the greatest number of people on earth is the simplest one. You don’t need any special equipment, no ball or bat, no water or snow, no specific field, court or surface to perform on. You don’t even need any footwear or any type of clothing.
What’s the sport?
Just look at the past champions of this sport and you’ll find it’s the only sport where the poorest nations in the world year after year consistently beat (actually destroy) the world’s wealthiest nations.
Despite all the advanced training facilities built, research programs developed, nutritional programs created, and bags of money thrown at this simplest of sports by richer countries, this is the one sport where money isn’t able to buy gold medals.
And the most democratic sport on earth is... long distance running.
Now back to lounging in my camping chair.