Cruel Summer

For Ace of Base and Banarama, every summer is a cruel one. How’s 2011 shaping up for Joe Blow Sports Fan?

The gods of sport love even numbers. Accidentally or intentionally many major sporting events you are likely to care about occurs in even years. When I think of the summer of 2011 (and its lack of major sports activity), I can’t help but imagine Arsenal’s front line (the Gunners would be down 2-0 against United, 60th minute) with Bendtner warming up on the sidelines. I know that one of their creative players will be coming off and I can feel the sagging weight of ennui and boredom rising in my chest and I weigh the merits of watching yet another season of Gilmore Girls.

On the surface, the absence of evidence exaggerates the evidence of absence (apologies…I’m studying for the LSAT currently)–no World Cup, no European Championships, no Olympics. Even in America, there’s a lockout in the NFL, another one looming in the NBA, the drudgery of the baseball regular season, and (in France) yet another Tour de France we will have to strive to take seriously. And I can’t come up with a snarky analogy biting enough to properly convey my emotions about the upcoming transfer window. It’s enough to make any God-fearing sports fan wish the Mayans had been off on their calculations by one year. There won’t even be any new episodes of Mad Men to ease the blow.

Despite the shadow of impending paralysis cast backwards, I implore you, O87 reader, do not sit back like Real Madrid’s back line while the waves of depression press forward (I am mixing metaphors in the worst way). Join me in soaking up every modicum of sports entertainment and squeezing the most of out of this summer’s scant pleasures. I will be Virgil guiding you through the Inferno. As a Villa fan, this is all too appropriate. Here’s a list of sports events you can watch this summer while you aren’t obsessively checking Twitter (Note: I’m staying away from established annual events like the Open Championship, French Open, etc. While awesome, discussing those would be missing the point).

1) The Scripps National Spelling Bee–May 31st–June 2nd

Every year ESPN carries this competition, and every year I wonder why anyone ever thought that was a good idea. It should be on C-SPAN with the Netball Championships. In all seriousness, there’s is something oddly gratifying about closing your eyes, waiting for a random judge to announce a word, doing your best to spell it (I have about a 90% success rate…not really), and then watching some pip squeak with coke bottle glasses determine the spelling based on its French (from the Latin for: are you kidding?) roots. Talk about a niche competition. Really, what we have here is a great example of an American pastime that has been bejeweled and bedazzled into an aesthetically appealing new version (kind of like Sarah Palin anybody). It’s basically a beauty pageant for the memory. You and your friends can play drinking games according to how many times a speller will repeat a question to the judges, the likelihood of someone passing out from the stress of the moment, or the number of kids (ages range from Pokemon loving age to Lord of the Rings loving age) picking their nose at any given time.

2) Gold Cup–June 5th through June 25th

You have to be impressed with the amount of young talent coming out of CONCACAF right now. Yes, a large part of it comes from Mexico or the United States, but it’s still rather exciting to think about these players boosting their countries’ squads. I’d recommend the Gold Cup for watching any summer, but considering the lack of other footballing entertainment, this is an especially good pick. The major rivalry (of course) is U.S./Mexico, but with El Salvador, Honduras, and Canada (hey! they won the damn thing in 2000), the competition could be very interesting. This year’s cup, held in America, holds a special significance. The winner will get to play in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. The US will be looking to secure another cup so as to springboard themselves into another deep run in the Confed. In addition to this motivation, all the teams are looking forward to playing in a quality competition motivated opponents. And yet, this isn’t the only attraction: the Gold Cup represents the first major competition since the 2010 World Cup, and fans of all the nations will be looking forward to squad changes since last year’s competition. Two other aspects of note: 1) The US was drawn in a group with Canada, setting up what should be a massive showdown of brain vs. brawn (I’m actually pretty sure neither country is either of those things); 2) We are very likely to see yet another border grudge match between the US and Mexico, which finished last Gold Cup in Mexico with the US as the winners.

3) FIFA Women’s World Cup–June 26th–July 17th

I’ll tell you why I’ll be watching–I hope it applies to you. As a diehard fan of the sport, I’m always interested to see it in is various manifestations, to try and understand why the physical or numerical differences of a set of players changes the way the game works. For example, I went and watched my university’s women’s soccer team a handful of times last season. Every single team played a variation of 3-3-1-3, with three at the back, a designated holding mid playing just in front of defense, a creative midfielder with two wing backs on either flank, and three players switching about constantly at the top trying to drag the other team’s back three out of position. Despite a bunch of 1-0 results, I very much enjoyed My point is to love soccer (according to my definition) is to love the intricacies that make the game tick. The Premier League, for all its glory, can get predictable. Watch the Women’s World Cup for a new perspective.

4) Netball Championships–July 3rd–July 10th

I had never heard of netball before researching for this story. And yet, I kinda regret never having known about it. It’s basically a modified version of basketball (think how Australian rules football applies to our soccer) with a handful of different rules which change the game pretty dramatically. It got its start in the UK in the late 19th century, and evolved into what best can be described as a perfect mix of handball and basketball. For one thing, the baskets do not have backboards. You can only take three steps before passing or shooting, and must do one of those within three seconds. Only two positions can shoot on the basket, and the rest (seven people are on the court for one team at one time) take over the responsibilities for passing and defending. The game can get pretty fierce (see the video). You should watch it for the same reason you walk into your favorite restaurant, and the waiter asks: “The usual?” And you say, “Meh, I’m feeling in a strange mood today and I’m gonna mix it up a bit. Give me the fried banana wrapped in cheese and ham.” You won’t be sure when you’re going in if you’ll be satisfied or not, but you know its worth the try. The 2011 Championships (hosted in Singapore) come on the heels of a four year international hiatus. They kick off on July 3rd, and matches will be available for viewing on C-SPAN (I’m joking about that…you’ll probably have to go to ATDHETV.NET (not that we’re endorsing illegal viewing of sporting events…)). Also, name me another sport in which the big three competitive teams are Australia, New Zealand, and … wait for it … Trinidad and Tobego.

Other viewing options:
1) The MLS season will still be going on.
2) Copa America
3) U-21 Euro Championships
4) U-20 World Cup

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