A Channel Divides
Alive in person - "never been there, nor done that" - even though I am a consummate spectator, mostly by TV, I've never been in person at the scene of such sports events as The British Open or The Tour de France. Still, I revel in the actions of spectators, those who have the means and time to experience great sporting events in person. Last week, on either side of The English Channel, there were two completely different assemblages of spectators.
At the Open tens of thousands of tweedy, hardy fans positioned themselves in bleachers that were placed at strategic points on the course giving these spectator the best view of golfer's actions as they passed before them. Additional stiff upper lipped viewers on foot seemingly trying to follow particular players as they played their way around the course. These mobile viewers seemed at times to be like an accordion; stretching out, moving quickly until they bunch up at a choke point where they slow to a stop. Some filter through the log jam and replicate the previous hole until they run out of roped paths. Feeling their 80#s well spent they'll, no matter the weather, be back tomorrow, rain or shine.
While across the channel a modern menagerie of circus oriented spectators line hundreds and hundreds of miles of the Tour de France road course. If they don't have a camera or smart phone they're draped in some flag like material foot racing the bikers up the climbs seeking their own picture be taken by the army of TV cameras. By the enormous number of vehicle campers which are parked along the route many spectators must camp out a night or two and, by their antics caught on TV, French wines must be in great demand to rock them to sleep.
On the 20th day of Tour competition I observed a rabid multitude of lilly white, European spectators being whipped into the heightened anxiety of competition. Masses long displayed in history are pictured being driven into a frenzy by words of a powerful speaker, but this time, it's the constant rhythm of bike racers pumping their pedals at a rate but few humans could ever accomplish.
Back across the channel at St. Andrews, Scotland stiff upper lipped, dower spectators keep behind the ropes as they obey every order of respectability. Their worshiped hush as a player addresses his putt becomes the act of ultimate civility. Whereas back in France free of spectator fees, a daily hoard of people line the route seeking individual recognition by the bikers, by their spectator grouping, and, especially, the media camera crews.
Spectators from both sides of the channel show the World through TV their opposites; one, like performing actors of a circus, the other are as an audience attending a coronation. Each adds validity to the nature of the game they are attending : golf is individual with a body of rules hundreds of years old ; cycling compared to golf is new and a team effort with relativity few rules I'm aware of. Many watch the players but I choose to watch the spectators as much as the contestants because in them we can get the feel of two societies, one on either side of the English Channel.
Ronald C. Downie