Excuse me for just a couple of minutes… This piece is not really about sport; it’s more about people’s perceptions of sport – or rather YouGov’s perception of people’s perceptions of sport.
YouGov is a leading opinion pollster whose views are apparently still heeded even after its famously failed forecast, like so many others, of the 2017 United Kingdom General Election.
A YouGov survey of the sport-spectating habits of 1,616 adults was published in The Times. That’s 1,616 out of 47 million over-18s in the United Kingdom. And, if it was conducted in the same rather imprecise way as the YouGov polls that litter my IN folder, then I have further doubts about its usefulness.
According to the 1,616, “Golf has been declared Britain’s dullest sport after a survey revealed that 70 per cent of people found it boring to watch.” The others in the “most boring” list were headed by American football (59 per cent), cricket and darts (both 58 per cent) and snooker (57 per cent).
The “least boring” were athletics (28 per cent), tennis (33 per cent), gymnastics (35 per cent), rugby union (39 per cent) and football (40 per cent).
I just can’t take that seriously… Yes, the last two laps of Mo Farah’s 5,000 metres and Usain Bolt’s 100 metres are exciting. But the shot and the walk? Is athletics more exciting than boxing or Formula One?
And when and where do the 1,616 watch gymnastics? Yes, Britain has national heroes in Max Whitlock (an outstanding local hero in my part of the world), Louis Smith and Amy Tinkler. But you can hunt high and low through the TV listings and you’ll be lucky to find gymnastics other than the Olympics and international competitions.
Now look at the “dull” sports. Golf is not really a spectator sport – in the flesh or on TV – for the non-golfer. Even for the golf fan, the first two days of a 72-hole tournament can be tedious, but a close final day and the head-to-head tension of matchplay are often truly exciting. Did the 1,616 reach their “dull” conclusion after watching golf or were they just repeating a kind of reverse snobbism?
In the poll, cricket in its various forms is regarded as “dull”. Five-day Tests have a simmering drama; slam-bang Twenty20 is a very different, much more immediate, entertainment. They shouldn’t be lumped together.
Are darts and snooker dull? Not to the millions who watch them on TV (and have rival channels battling to cover them). So what’s the point of the YouGov poll? I hope it’s not taken seriously as a quasi-scientific study of the way we as a nation regard sport. Each of us has our own likes and dislikes; we’re not just numbers to keep pollsters busy.
A mischievous thought to finish… The YouGov poll was given a page lead in The Times – and doesn’t that just have more than a slight tinge of self-serving because The Times does not have a regular golf correspondent?