Saturday, 17 July 2010

Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing: Armchair viewing may have gone 3D but it still lacks the extra dimension of watching sport live

In the face of the new 3D and HD technology, Max Smithson tells us why the armchair viewing of sport will never compare to the real thing:

With the amount of televised sport available to watch these days, it has become far too easy to simply enjoy watching sports from the comfort of your own home. The speed and skill of top athletes, however, often fails to transcend beyond the television screen. Having been fortunate enough to attend many different sporting events, I would argue that sport is a considerably better experience when viewed in the flesh.

Two sports in which I have witnessed the biggest contrast from watching on television to seeing live are cricket and tennis. Watching cricket live is a totally unique experience. The first thing you notice is just how quick the bowling is. When sat side on, watching a fast bowler, you simply do not see the ball. You also get a far greater sense of the power and force the bowler is putting into his work. Bounding in like a rampaging bull, slamming his foot down on the crease and bringing his arm crashing down (like England’s dreams at a World Cup) is a truly impressive sight. All the time the bowler is doing so with such accuracy, trying to get the ball to swing or finding the smallest of gaps between bat and pad.

The wicket-keeper is also stood at an incredibly far distance from the stumps. From your own home you have no perspective on this. I was very surprised the first time I witnessed it. Despite being stood so far back, reaction times for a keeper or slip fielder after an edge are so minimal and much more impressive when seen in the flesh. With all this speed involved, the quality of a batsmen can really be appreciated (except Ravi Bopara), seeing them timing and placing their shots to perfection is remarkable. Super slow-motion cameras, high definition or hot spot will never give you the same understanding of the skill on display.

To truly experience tennis it must be seen live. It is a sport that involves an incredible level of power and accuracy that is sometimes bewildering. I have been lucky enough to visit Wimbledon and to watch some of the world’s best players is an absolute privilege. Watching it live, as with cricket, gives a much greater impression of the power and force players put into their shots. We all know they strike the ball hard, but they can also cover the court with speed, place their shots with precision and finish points with the finesse of a drop shot. That is what I love about tennis. There are so many other important facets that a player must possess in order to be at the top of the game. Seeing them first hand makes you appreciate them so much more.

Being at a venue to watch sport also provides you with a different viewpoint to that of the TV cameras. Yes, they have cameras at different angles but usually, apart from the main camera, they all operate in slow-motion. A different viewpoint can show you different aspects of the game. For instance, when watching football I love being sat behind the goal. You sacrifice your view of the far end but you get an equal view of what is happening on both wings. You also get a much better perspective of the runs the players are making, especially when from deep, which do not get picked up by the cameras. Some people prefer sitting side on, some low down, some high up, but it all contributes to the different aspects of the sport that watching from the standard broadcasting view on your TV just cannot offer.

As well as these impressive skills and different perspectives, watching a sport live, has an extra factor that makes it so great. The atmosphere. For me, atmosphere is why I go watch football every week, why I travel hundreds of miles across the country for sport and why I love watching live sport in so much. Every sport and every venue has its own unique atmosphere that must be experienced in order to fully understand it. So much so that I could write an individual article for each venue I have been to, with them all contributing so much character and ambience to their respective sport.

Whether it be singing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ with 82,000 others at Twickenham, the silence before a serve at match point on Centre Court, the general hubbub that gently buzzes round Headingley Stadium during an England Test match or jumping around in joy in the pissing rain on a concrete slope in Kettering after your team have just equalised in the FA Cup, atmosphere is something to embrace as much as sport itself.

Those of you who do go to watch live sport, hopefully you appreciate and agree with what I am saying. Those of you who don’t, I would urge you to get down to whichever local sports venue you can, large or small, because you will experience something special there. Sports broadcasters can introduce as much new and exciting technology as they like but, ultimately, the pleasure and appreciation to be gained from enjoying any sport in a stadium cannot be surpassed.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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