Childhood obesity has become a serious problem in the United Kingdom as in other Western countries. In the age of television, computers and the internet, children spend much time indoors and much less out in the fresh air involved in some form of physical activity. The British government has announced a programme addressing this problem by encouraging school-age children to participate in more sporting activities, including those that are less known and less widely practiced. Proponents of these Cinderella sports have seized the opportunity to promote their cause and stress the need to increase popularity through television exposure. This raises the questions: which sports are best adapted to television and are they likely to address the juvenile obesity problem?
Every sportsperson wants their sport on television because it is the medium which has brought great fame and fortune to the sports it traditionally favours. These have included soccer, tennis and golf globally, and American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey in North America. In recent years, there has been an expanding presentation of other sports such as athletics, rugby and one-day cricket. It might seem that television can extend its Midas touch to every sport, but there must be some features that more particularly suit the small screen.
One important factor, especially for children, is the speed at which a game is played. Most people who dislike cricket say that it is too slow. Many Europeans make the same complaint of American football, which also seems to consist of long pauses between short bursts of action. Other sports are too fast for most spectators to follow. These include table tennis and ice hockey, although the former is popular in China and the latter in North America. In both cases a small object is propelled at speeds faster than the eye can follow but ardent fans must see something more.
Games played on large pitches and over long distances are less well suited to television because the viewer sees very little at any one time and the overall picture must be provided by expert commentary. Few outdoor sports are like tennis where all the action can be contained within one frame. This essential feature, combined with action that is continuous but not too fast, is ideally manifested in snooker, which also has the advantages of a colourful presentation and close-up action. Snooker may be the ideal game for television, but being played indoors and with little physical exertion, it can do nothing to address the juvenile obesity problem.
Popularising sport amongst children should not be taken as an opportunity to popularise a sport on television. Encouraging children to watch more television will be counterproductive. It is better to make more sports available in schools and clubs, and encourage children to try their hand at each and find which they prefer. There are many activities available to which they might not be attracted through TV, but from which they could derive great enjoyment, physical fitness and the satisfaction of achievement.