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End of exercise. Some sports we know only from books or movies; they died an early death. Why don’t we play them anymore? Were they too complicated, too violent, too humiliating and inhuman or simply impractical?

Dwarf tossing

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Played where and when? Dwarf tossing/dwarf throwing was popular in the 80s and 90s of the 20th century. It was played in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, France and England.

The rules? People, who are shorter than 1.45 metres, dress in protective gear. Then someone throws them as far as possible – usually onto mattresses or some other soft spot. The person who throws the dwarf the furthest wins. The sport was particularly popular in bars. In 1986, a world championship was held. The team from England won.

Downfall? In the early 90s, the French Council of State started questioning the sport. Isn’t it an attack on human dignity? He wanted to ban dwarf tossing. But Manual Wackenheim, at 1.14 meters tall, opposes the ban. He earns his living as a projectile and insists on his right to work. The judiciary agrees. The case draws a lot of attention. In the US, the Little People of America movement opposes dwarf tossing. In 2002, the UN ends the discussion: they declare dwarf tossing inhuman and put a stop to it. Completely.

What else? An alternative to dwarf tossing is dwarf bowling. The little person wears protective gear with a handle on the back. In the process, he’s transformed into something like a bowling ball. Put him on a skateboard and he’s pushed towards small bowling pins down an improvised bowling alley. Unsurprisingly, this sport has also been banned.

Palm tennis

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Played where and when? Jeu de palme, to give it its real name, started in France. Jeu de palme literally means ‘game played with the palm of the hand’. From the 11th century it was played – fanatically – by mere mortals and monks.

The rules? Jeu de palme is a fore-runner of modern-day tennis, with a dash of squash added. Two players hit a ball to and fro across a field. Point allocations are the same as those in tennis. That’s pretty much where the similarity ends. The ball was originally hit with the hand of the player. The field was surrounded by at least 3 walls – one behind each player, plus one side wall. The first ball always has to end up in the opponent’s section. After that, the game has far more rules than tennis. For instance, a ball may bounce twice in certain instances without the loss of a point, and service doesn’t automatically change after a game ends. You have to win back service by scoring a point.

Downfall? In the 14th century, the sport becomes a particular favourite of royalty and the king. They introduce rackets, which the common public cannot afford. Around 1800, the sport develops into what we now know as tennis.

What else? Jeu de palme was played – once only – at the Olympic Games. In 1908. But it was played with rackets, not palms.

Running on water

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Played where and when? The extraordinary sport was practiced in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was mainly aboard various trade ships belonging to the VOC fleet (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie aka Dutch East Indies Company).

The rules? The ships of the VOC traverse the world. But their ability to travel is tied to the wind. Sometimes it happens that ships stand still, either due to wind from the wrong direction, or simply due to a complete lack of wind. To keep the crews occupied, captains organise onboard sports tournaments. The sailors have, for instance, to complete a course running with a bag of flour around their necks. The grand prize? The fastest runner wins a piece of fruit or an extra tot of alcohol.

Downfall? Towards the end of the 18th century, the VOC’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. Wars and competition with other countries lead to the trade organisation’s financial downfall. In 1798, it is disbanded. No more ships sail for trade, so no more onboard games. Who knows, though, maybe today’s sailors still play games like this?

What else? The VOC didn’t just trade with pepper, cinnamon, coffee and tea. They also did a brisk trade in elephants. The going price for this beautiful beast was 6,000 to 7,000 guilders (about R30,000, excluding inflation).

 

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