I’ll admit I’m not much of a sports fan. I can’t tell you exactly when it was I last watched a football, baseball or basketball game — but it definitely wouldn’t be this century.
Hockey is the one exception — my singular concession to the manly art of yelling at the television and grumbling about biased referees, bonehead plays, and archaic rules. Unfortunately, watching hockey requires subscribing to various premium sports channels — channels I would never watch were it not for hockey. When a game ends and I turn off the TV, the cable box remains tuned to the sports channel. So the next time it turns on, I’m greeted by the site of some sport other than hockey. And more often than not, that “sport” is poker.
Can someone with less atrophied grey matter explain, exactly, why poker is considered a sport? I truly don’t understand.
Perhaps, as a one sport guy, I should recuse myself from pontificating about this. But try as I might, I just can’t find the “sport” in sitting around a table, playing a game of cards. I’ll admit to having had similar doubts about curling, darts and billiards — but at least those activities generally require standing. That’s not to denigrate various sitting sports: Rowing is no easy task; and many Paralympic sports look to be truly gruelling. If nothing else, auto-racing is a test of human endurance. Even bobsledding requires that you run as fast as you can before settling into a nice sleigh ride. But poker? Poker?!
What sets the bar for an activity’s designation as a sport? Poker’s inclusion would suggest that “plopping your butt in a folding chair and engaging one another in some form of competitive bidding” clears that bar. So why can’t I grab a 6-pack, kick back, and tune into a local art auction on one of those sports channels? That’s something I might actually be inclined to watch.
This got me thinking. There’s money is sports. Big money. So if bog snorkelling (Wales), pumpkin kayaking (Nova Scotia), and wife carrying (Finland) can all be sports, why not photography? Plus, unlike those sports, photography’s appeal is international. Which makes it more conducive to lucrative sponsorship deals and, dare I say, inclusion in the Olympics. What’s more, photography could fit comfortably in both the summer and winter games, doubling the sport’s exposure on the international stage.
So naturally, in my unending desire to quit my day job and grow ULTRAsomething into a global media empire, I’ve decided to establish photography as a competitive sport. But unlike those sports you’ll watch only during Olympic years (like luge or pole vaulting), or those you’ll never watch (like bowling), I’ll make sure photography is a sport that’s seen every hour of the day, every day of the week, and on at least one premium sports channel — just like poker. To this end, I’m proud to announce that I’m establishing the Intergalactic Photography League (IPL).
Like poker, the sport of photography is a game of chance, and its champions are those who are best able to apply wit and ingenuity in order to escape a particular statistical outcome. Unlike poker, photography’s winners are determined subjectively rather than objectively. It’s not a sport that can simply award the trophy to whoever threw the javelin the furthest, or ski’d through the slalom course the fastest — there’s an element of artistic interpretation involved. This makes it more akin to snowboarding, figure skating, gymnastics, or high diving.
Judged sports are obviously more susceptible to tainted results. Sentiment, human error, emotion, favouritism, corruption, and other such foibles will inevitably afflict the judging. Fortunately, there is not one single tangible metric that makes one photo better than another, so the inevitable controversy and online bickering generated by each IPL match will only bring more attention to the sport — along with the occasional lucrative mainstream media coverage that accompanies a juicy judging scandal.
In fact, I would go one step further. Instead of televising only the announcement of the judging results, the IPL will televise the judging process. All the judges will be mic’d up and tossed into a pit, where viewers will see them argue about the relative merits of one photo over another. I’ve judged numerous photo contests in my day, and I can assure you that several have nearly come to blows. Just watch our ratings soar when the cameras capture one IPL judge throwing a chair at another IPL judge.
Additionally, I would suggest all judges be drawn from a pool of cancelled celebrities. Not only will they be publicity starved, and thus willing to work for free, but their notoriety and the outrage they’ll attract will draw even more viewers to the sport.
Because professional photography isn’t a team sport (like football or volleyball), there’s no need for silly uniforms. But as a solo sport (like tennis or golf), there should be some sort of dress code to identify the participants as professionals worthy of idolatry, while still allowing for artistic individuality. I suggest we all adopt jet-black shaggy haircuts and head-to-toe black clothing, à la Daido Moriyama. Having a cohesive yet individualistic look expands sponsorship opportunities above and beyond the obvious gear-related endorsements. Imagine the earnings potential if Columbia Sportswear had a line of ULTRAsomething logo’d black, seam-sealed waterproof jackets — practical enough to transport a rangefinder and a couple Summicron lenses, while stylish enough to meet with your agent at the trendiest new restaurant. Good luck trying to get past the maître d’ dressed like your favourite hockey player!
Unlike exclusionary sports like track (gotta be fast); basketball (gotta be tall); or baseball (gotta suffer from jock itch); the IPL is inclusionary. This means that participating in the event whilst smoking and drinking (like darts) is both accepted and encouraged — thus increasing the sport’s appeal to the commoner, and creating a society in which every young boy or girl can dream of one day being a professional photographer.
And finally, because all other sports are filmed in high definition, IPL matches will be filmed on hand-cranked 8mm cameras using expired Kodak film stock. This ensures that all IPL events leap from the screen— catching a couch potato’s eye as they surf a thousand channels for quality sports entertainment.
There are still a few details to work out. For example, it could be quite difficult to pit a landscape photographer against a street photographer. One practitioner would more likely win with a black & white, lo-fi, metaphorical or funny subject found out in the wild; whereas the other would prevail with a searingly sharp, saturated, heavily processed concoction requiring the ultimate in sensor technology, quality hiking boots, and trendy Photoshop skills. Part of me wants to tell the landscape guys to start their own damn league (after all, why invent a sport unless I, myself, can win it). But then I think how much more violently entertaining the judging discussions will be, so I’m leaning toward a league in which all genres compete on equal terms.
I can’t believe I’ve spent all these years grumping about poker being a “sport,” without ever seeing the forest through the trees. Money. Fame. Prestige. All are within reach. And the icing on the cake — we’ll have the hippest trading cards in the whole wide world of sports.
©2021 grEGORy simpson
DISCLAIMER: This article means no disrespect to the many fine men and women who participate in any of the sports mentioned in this article. But if it makes you feel any better, you’re welcome to cast shade on the Intergalactic Photography League once it’s up, running, and stocked with a first class legal team.
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