London Mayor Boris Johnson recently called it, “magnificent and bonkers.”
One night at a beach volleyball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics and you can see why.
Not only are there the customary comforts of the sport – bikini-clad athletes, bikini-clad dancers, ear-piercing rock ‘n’ roll music and, of course, a big pile of sand – but they’ve plopped the whole business right in the middle of Horse Guards Parade.
As in, the plot of land where Henry VIII once held jousting tournaments. Or where the Queen has since had her cavalry promenade around, lest they get too lethargic, something that’s become quite the tourist attraction.
Now that we mention it, it’s also right around the corner from Buckingham Palace, just in case Lizzy wants to watch on.
If that isn’t bonkers, what is?
Did we mention the dancers form a conga line during commercial breaks?
As it is situated, the scenery at the venue is remarkable, with views of Big Ben to the right, the London Eye (the world’s third tallest Ferris wheel) to the left and several 300-year-old buildings in back to add a little gravity to the absurd.
Not that that’s what they want.
“Remember this is not Wimbledon, ladies and gentleman,” the announcer blurted over the loudspeaker 10 minutes before play began.
And the crowd, without a geographical favourite on this night, during a match between Canada and Brazil, obliges, cheering wildly for no particular reason at all.
Beach volleyball has, unexpectedly, become one of the hottest tickets at these Games, with word of the atmosphere, setting and skin spreading around the city.
Tickets cost a fortune on the secondary market, but that hasn’t stopped a whole crew of Canadians – some clad in hockey helmets, wearing flags as capes and crowded around the beer tent – from getting in.
Those who know the sport well say they’ve never seen anything quite like this – with stodgy old England playing host to such raucous ridiculousness right in the royals’ backyard.
“The fact that you’re right here, it brings all the attention of London right to the centre of the town,” said one of the flag-wearing Canucks, Martin Dearing, who was there supporting an old friend in Canadian men’s volleyball player Josh Binstock.
“I don’t know that London’s particularly known for their beaches, but the hype that got created around this particular event, it’s phenomenal. These guys are put in the spotlight in a way we’ve never seen before. We’re loving it.”
“They’re guaranteed to have another game, too, so we’ve got to scramble to get tickets,” another pal of Binstock’s, Bill McLean, added.
In an event where there’s been more written about the skimpy attire than the actual games – and there’s certainly something odd about a sport that prevents women from covering up (unless the temperature drops) being played in the same universe as the hijab controversy in judo – the buzz in the city is mostly about the downright fun of it all.
Beach volleyball may not be front and centre on the sporting scene and Canada’s athletes here may not be on the radar of the Own The Podium funding push, but the vast array of countries participating speaks to an organic growth in the game.
In addition to Canada’s two teams, there are entries from Norway, Latvia, China, Venezuela and Mauritius – making beach volleyball more global than many events in London.
Perhaps that alone means it deserves a spot at the Games? Or maybe, just maybe, there’s room for a little silliness amongst the more staid aspects of the Olympics?
Either way, there’s little argument beach volleyball has added something of value here in London.
Just ask the mayor.
“There are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalized by Canaletto,” Johnson wrote in his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph. “They are glistening like wet otters and the water is splashing off the brims of the spectators’ sou’westers.”
Which means it’s about time for a conga.