Alan Hubbard

Scouting around for something vaguely sporting to occupy my increasingly spare time in my dotage, especially since sadly my wonderful lady of 54 years has passed away, I came across a bulletin from my local borough council in southern England detailing activities for the elderly.

Perusing the 80-odd list (really, that many?) which ranged from patchwork quilting to pilates, via tai chi and croquet, boules and backgammon, something even more bizarre caught my eye. 

Rummikub. I thought it may be a misprint.

"What the hell"s that?" I mused. So, in the best tradition of a certain popular television quiz show I phoned a friend. He didn't know either. "Is it in the Olympics?" he queried.

"No," I replied. "But I bet it bloody soon will be."

Now that breakdancing is strongly tipped to be launched as an Olympic sport at Paris 2024, squeezing out more orthodox and arguably more worthy pursuits such as painstakingly long-trying squash, no sporting stone is likely to be left unturned by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) hell-bent on not showing its age.

I concur with my colleague Michael Pavitt's reservations, expressed here this week, about whether the IOC's haste in embracing breakdancing et al might be a step too far, and recommend an equally fine piece in today's Daily Mail by the witty left field columnist Craig Brown who wonders why leapfrogging and musical chairs should not now be in the Games. As he says, after Brexit might queuing come into its own as an Olympic sport?

But back to Rummikub. Googling it, as you do, it turns out to be a card game (well that shouldn't preclude it from Olympic recognition these days) for two to four players, combining elements of rummy and mahjong, employing variously coloured tiles.

I will not explain all the rules (you can look them up if you are that keen) except that at the conclusion, the winner will have no tiles left and shouts out, yes, you've guessed it: "Rummikub!"

Rummikub has been suggested as an activity for the elderly ©Getty Images
Rummikub has been suggested as an activity for the elderly ©Getty Images

Sounds fun, doesn't it? But surely not quite as much fun as kettlebell lifting, apparently. A while back I happened to write the following in this column when pole dancing was then a subject of debate as a possible Olympic pursuit:

"You can be sure it will be rubber-stamped by the easily-pleased politicos.

"And some perspective can be gained by looking at what other bodies were given observer status by the Global Association of International Sports Federations - among them the World Arm Wrestling Federation, the World Dodgeball Association, the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting (no, me neither) and the International Table Soccer Federation.

"Such is the desire of the IOC to portray themselves as 'cool' and pander to 'yoof' and TV it would not surprise me if any or all of those activities were to be given an Olympic berth in Games to come, along with poker, chess and an Olympic Formula One Grand Prix, with some of the more traditional sports like wrestling and boxing given the elbow.

"Indeed, the more the merrier. We could even envisage a supplementary Games for oddball sports run simultaneously. A sort of Olympic Lite."

My somewhat dismissive comment about kettlebell lifting subsequently led to a deluge of information about this activity putting me right.

It came mainly from the United States where it seems insidethegames is widely read and kettlebell lifting is currently hot. The kettle is boiling, so to speak.

Among them is a missive from Valerie Pawlowski, who is a world champion kettlebell lifter and five-times a gold medalist for the US team.

She informs me kettlebell lifting, which is in observer status for the Olympics, is a growing sport in the US with intensity and widespread participation.

"It is a true test in competition of endurance strength speed, paced lifting with huge round weights with a handle," she said.

"Both men and women, children, juniors, adults and veterans (of which I am at age 55) have a level playing field to enter into competition and take the platform in a 10 minute duration of one of three disciplines.

"With amazingly unique wielded power over the 10 minutes the athlete will move enormous volumes of weight without putting the kettlebells down, completing proper repetitions before a judge perfuming the lift of kettlebell snatch, jerk or long cycle jerk.

"The snatch is performed taking the kettleball into a backswing through the middle of legs and propelling it upward to flip onto the forearm into a lockout.

"Professional women are doing this with 24 kilogram kettleballs.

"The jerk is taking two kettleballs at chest level, repeatedly launching them upward into arm lockout position overhead and professional women are lifting two 24kg kettlebells in jerk.

"The long cycle is as a jerk but adding a drop down into backswing for the successful repetitions.

"The biathlon combines an initial 10 minute jerk set then returning for a 10 minute snatch set.

"It takes tremendous fortitude, preparation training and precision of technique.

"The beauty of this great accomplishment in competing is that all abilities and capabilities can learn and rise to the top and become a champion.

Supporters have praised the sport of kettlebell lifting ©IUKL
Supporters have praised the sport of kettlebell lifting ©IUKL

"It certainly fits among the Olympic lifting events as it has similarities yet highly intense variations for quite a showing of ability."

Well, that's me told. It all sounds pretty upbeat. I am further informed that kettlebell lifting has been an organised sport since the 1960s and has a much longer history in Russia and Eastern Europe, notably Latvia where the last World Championships were held, reaching back 100 years.  

It is a relatively new sport for America and Britain, beginning only this century. Kettleballs can cost up to £250 ($330/€290) and you can actually buy them in Argos.

It is among a whole host of sports, no doubt all with Olympic aspirations, that have "ball" as an appendage, more than 50 in all.

Apart from the obvious such as football, basketball, volleyball, handball, baseball and softball, all of which have, or have had, Olympic status, they range from angleball, dodgeball, kickball, korfball, rock-it ball, horseball, tchoubkall, pickleball (don't ask), kin-ball, stickleball and paintball through to wiffleball. What, no pinball? How did the newly trendy old buffers of the IOC miss out on that?

Anyway, that is more than enough balls for one column.

Meantime, pass the tiles. I am off to play ball (sorry, cards) at my local community centre. Rummikub!