A British historical organisation is campaigning to have the ancient art of jousting declared an Olympic sport. Jousting, where two heavily-armoured horse riders attack each other with 20-foot poles, was a popular pastime during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It faded in popularity in later years when people eventually realised there were more comfortable ways to kill yourself than being thrown from a horse while wearing 20kg of armour.
The English Heritage organisation has been in talks with the International Olympic Committee to include jousting in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “We absolutely believe it deserves its place at the Olympic table,” said Lucy Hutchings, English Heritage’s head of projects, in an interview with the Guardian.
It is an incredible spectator sport, a really fascinating thing to watch. The skill of the knight and the horses make it a great thing to witness.
Introducing a new sport to the Olympic lineup is not a unique concept. Golf and Rugby 7’s are new additions to this year’s Rio Olympics, while beach volleyball has only been flaunting beautiful bikini-clad women (and their mysterious ability to not have their bikinis ride up into their butt cleft) since 1996. Baseball was introduced in 1998 but removed in 2008, presumably because the sport was not sporty enough.
Tokyo has been toying with including skateboarding, surfing and climbing. “If skateboarding can be included then jousting has a good chance,” said Hutchings. Jousting expert Dominic Sewell agrees. “Jousting requires a huge amount of skill and involves a daily training regime. You have to be strong, not just physically but mentally, so you can sit fearlessly in your saddle, face your rival and offer yourself as a target.” The skill and training involved, he believes, makes it suitable for inclusion as an Olympic sport.
However, jousting is not without its perils. King Henry VIII was a keen jouster in his youth, until he suffered a serious brain injury that historians suspect might be to blame for his frequent recycling of wives. Thrown and crushed beneath his own horse, he was unconscious for two hours and was initially feared to be dead. When he awoke, he reportedly underwent a significant personality change, discovering diverting new hobbies such as beheading his own wives.
There are risks for the horses, too.“Horses being prey animals, they are naturally designed to run away from things, so to persuade it to run towards another large clanging thing at speed takes time,” Sewell enthused.
Will the risks to human and animal prevent jousting from attaining the Olympic recognition the English Heritage organisation believe it deserves? Hutchings and Sewell believe not. The organisation is also trying to declare jousting “England’s first national sport”. As Hutchings added, “We are deadly serious.”