Sunday, April 03, 2005

Shrunken World of Sports

bobsalive over at the team blogged jackdied site provides an article detailing the latest dramatic turns in the life of legendary chess-great Bobby Fischer.

Thinking of Fischer, I've wondered if public interest in one-on-one sports matches has declined. Tennis doesn't seem to be as exciting now as it used to when stars like Billie Jean King, MacEnroe, Connors, Borg, Everett, etc seemed to be highly regarded in the public conscience. The arcane world of competitive chess gripped a fair amount of the public's imagination in the days when Fischer and Spassky squared off. Even more recent battles like Kasparov and Karpov enjoyed some public attention, but now it seems any inkling of the existence of competitive chess has evaporated in the attention of the general public. Perhaps Kasparov's defeat at the hands of the software program Deep Blue killed off any interest in watching two humans, who are obviously inferior thinking machines, go at it head-to-head.

Think of boxing, what was the last title fight that grabbed somewhat of a hold of the public's imagination? Is it because of the lack of star power and charisma in the current crop of heavyweight boxers? Has there been a recent fight to come close to the level of international attention that routinely characterized the fights involving Ali?

It seems to me that people are more interested in team played sports and are less interested in one on one battles between opponent's competing head to head. One could say that I am wrong here, that the popularity of made-for-TV contests like Iron Chef or American Idol erodes this argument. To that I respond that it does not, simply because the contestants of such battles, while they may be competing against one another are not competing head-to-head - that is the winner is decided not by defeating the other through interactive combat, but is instead decided on the appraisal of outside judges who award points or votes to decide the champion.

What ever happened to two people battling each other and one person directly succumbing to the other? Why is this no longer popular? Is it because of the whole societal obsession with preserving self-esteem? We just don't like to watch seeing one person get defeated at the hands of another? That we'd rather have contests be decided by judges so as to feel okay with the contest - that both opponents were great competitors and now is up for someone else to decide (arbitrarily and therefore subjectively)....?

I don't know. We like watching one-on-one clashes in the make believe realm of movies, but it seems to me that it is becoming harder to find out there in the flesh and blood real world.


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