Sunday, October 16, 2005

Independent on Sunday: Good Sports

Broader Picture, by Keith Laidlaw
Photograph by Joachim Ladefoged: opens in a new window

Visit any US sporting event and, regardless of whether it's being held in a tiny high-school gym or a 100,000-seater stadium, you can normally rely on one thing: cheerleaders. Their perfect smiles and never-say-die exuberance are a cliche that's as all-American as apple pie or Disney World.

But the days of pom-poms and titillation are being phased out. A new era of crowd encouragement is taking over the US, and now it's serious. Well, perhaps not all that serious, but certainly more complex and acrobatic than it was.

Pictured are the men (that's right, it's not just for the girls anymore) and women of the all-conquering University of Kentucky team, reigning national champions, and holders of the top title in cheerleading for nine out of the past 10 years (a squad from Central Florida broke their otherwise perfect run in 2003). While the level of athleticism required is obviously impressive, the students have other reasons to be passionate about cheering, not least the fact that those who make the top team are rewarded with full scholarships.

It may seem alien to us here in the UK - but, with falling attendances and widespread boredom apparently blighting Premiership football this season, how long before Manchester United's new American owners decide that maybe something is missing from our national sport?