Strange Sports

Via Crooked Timber, I learn that Simon Kuper (author of the excellent Football against the Enemy) has an article in the Financial Times on strange sporting contests involving animals (elephant polo, that kind of thing), which discusses the impressive athletic achievements of Rosa Luxemburg, the Balliol College tortoise…

Tortoise racing, too, has failed to conquer the world. It barely exists outside Oxford University. Each June the university’s leading tortoises race in the garden of Corpus Christi College, spiritual home of the sport. But this year the race was not held due to bad organisation, and last year’s race was spoiled when a student entered in a tortoise costume and declared himself the winner.

Presumably this refers to someone at Magdalen, since the JCR here is very proud of its tortoise costume, and I certainly woudn’t put it past them to disrupt a major sporting contest like this. Vandals.

Corpus’s own reptile died years ago and the college now usually fields an animal borrowed from a tutor. “Various tutors own tortoises, bizarrely enough,” explains Jack Clift, former president of Corpus’s junior common room.

I don’t know which tutor’s tortoise gets borrowed: in the early 1990s, when I used to pay attention, I think the race was a three-cornered contest between the Balliol tortoise, the Corpus tortoise, and the Corpus gardener’s tortoise, who was (if I remember rightly) called Bulldozer.

Like goats, tortoises prefer sex to running. This favours Balliol’s veteran female champion, Rosa Luxemburg. “The tortoises we tend to borrow are male, so she toddles off and the males follow her,” complains Clift.

I hadn’t come across this theory before, and I wonder whether it is true. In fact, I’ve no idea whether Rosa Luxemburg actually is a female tortoise, having very little idea how to sex tortoises. I always thought she used to win owing to her combination of rigorous physical and ideological training provided by an elected official known as Comrade Tortoise, together with her unique diet consisting of the cigarette butts left out on the Garden Quad. But what do I know?”Sex is the whole point of camel wrestling…”, the article continues, at which point I think this discussion should draw to a close.

0 thoughts on “Strange Sports”

  1. Chris,

    I’ve been told by someone or other that Rosa Luxemburg has escaped from Balliol by means of one of the new wheelchair access ramps. Apparently, she toddled off into Broad Street and has never been seen again. I’d like to think that she’s Taking Her Struggle to the World.

    As for Simon Kuper, I can only agree as to the splendidness of ‘Football Against the Enemy’. Its best bits, I think, are its description of the Scientific Socialist Training Methods of the great Soviet-era Dynamo Kiev teams.

    The best Leftist Football Book, though, is undoubtedly Eduardo Galleano’s ‘Football in Sunshine and Shadow’. If you haven’t already read it, then you’re in for a treat. (It has recently been republished in English under the rubbish title: ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’.)

  2. Yes Football Against The Enemy is excellent, and I can also recommend as possibly even better, Simon’s latest book, Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Football in Europe During the Second World War, which is a thought provoking examination of Holland’s treatment of the Jews during WW2, using Ajax football club as a starting point. Simon has such an excellent writing style, he’s always good to read.

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