The art of watching sports

This is a post about watching sports, but it is written not only for those of you that watch sports or are sport-curious (those that think that they may want to watch sports but aren’t sure). This is also a post for anyone who likes to watch movies, or shows, or read books. Lastly, this is also a post for those of you who hope that your spouse may share the couch as you plop down to watch the highlights for the most recent sporting spectacle you’ve gotten into.

Why people watch sports

Let’s begin with stating why people watch sports. You may think that people watch sports for the “sports” of it all - to watch the ball bounce from one end of the field to another, or to see a fighter land a punch on his opponent. And, here is where I come in. I say you’d be wrong to assume that. People don’t care for the “sports” in the sport. While action helps, I posit it is not the primary reason most of us return to our TV (or mobile) screens for another dose of highlights.

Sports is all about the story. No one watches tennis to see a ball bounce a hundred times in the span of five minutes. People watch tennis for Federer. For Nadal. For Richard Gasquet (okay, maybe that’s just me). People watch a sport to root for the hero up against his latest challenge. Or for the underdog who may finally do it this time. Or in some cases, for the “villain” because their rivals are supported by yours! Sports are movies in real time. Unscripted.

What a sport needs to be watchable

First and foremost, sport is exciting to watch if there is a well-defined storyline. A consistent protagonist and challenger(s) whose battles stand the test of time. The story behind the sport is why people tune in week after week to watch “scripted” sports like professional wrestling (WWE). It is also why men’s tennis flourished in the 2010s while women’s tennis struggled.

Secondly, there should be a fair chance (ideally based on skill) for the challenger to upset the hero. This explains why I turn off the telly as soon as I see Max Verstappen has made it to the starting grid of a 60 lap F1 race.

Thirdly, it helps if this holds for every “mini-tussle” (i.e. point/game/set/match in tennis, or a bout in boxing, etc.). If the match is dusted once someone takes the lead, fewer people are going to be watching as there’s no point investing yourself just for it all to end in a second. For this very reason, I empathize with anyone trying to watch a chess game.

Fourthly, you need to be able to appreciate the skill displayed by the players. You should be in awe because you understand what’s going on and what they’re doing. It’s just that you couldn’t do it as well. Importantly, you shouldn’t be awed because you have no idea what the hell is going on. Chess needs someone who ate, drank and dreamt chess for thirty years to explain to the audience who is winning (and sometimes even they can’t explain why said person is winning), and chess players wonder why no one’s watching.

Lastly, and I mean lastly, you need some action - something happening on the screen. The sport should at a bare minimum beat watching paint dry. Action definitely comes last, far less important than the story behind the sport. And this is why people tune in to the Monaco Grand Prix but no one watches the traffic jam right outside my office building every day at 5 pm (they are equivalent in terms of action).

The sport to watch right now

I half-heartedly follow cricket, boxing, tennis, formula 1, the NBA, and chess. Today, they pale in comparison to one sport. The sport for psychos (in an endearing way). Cycling.

** A short primer on cycling **
The cycling season revolves around the three big races, the Grand Tours: the Giro d’Italia that takes place earliest in the year, the Vuelta de EspaƱa that finishes the year and the Tour de France (naam to suna hi hoga).

Cycling is not an individual sport. A team has cyclists specialized to perform a variety of roles: sprinters, climbers and others I won’t go into here. The Tour de France consists of a number of stages. On each stage, all teams start together and race till the finish line. The rider with the lowest time at any point in the race gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey (there are other jerseys too, but I’ll leave that for you to discover). At the end of the race, the rider with the yellow jersey is the winner of the general classification (GC) and the winner of the Tour De France. Not everyone stands a chance at winning the yellow jersey. This is a task reserved for the climbers. The rest of the team (domestiques) rides in support of their leaders - the madmen who can exert power beyond their tiny frames and catapult themselves up literal mountains. This year, we will witness the first clash of the fearsome four, leaders of their respective teams. Though a crash earlier in the year took out 3 of the 4 (with two requiring surgery), these are no mere mortals, and all of them will start the Tour. Now, we are ready to dive in.

The story


We begin with Primoz Roglic, the fallen hero. And to some extent, the dark horse. Roglic started his cycling career after deciding to retire from professional skiing (cycling is not any less risky as you’ll soon see). After having the 2020 Tour de France in the palm of his hand, he crashed on the penultimate stage - a time trial - and lost the Tour de France to Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia. Over the next two years, he was outranked by a younger teammate and so in 2023, Roglic left Jumbo Visma to join his new team, Bora Hansgrohe. Roglic is not a weak rider by any means - he’s won the other two Grand Tours - but the Tour de France will add a shine to that crown. Roglic’s mission is one of revenge and redemption. Can he beat his rivals who bested him the last 3 years, and win the one that’s gotten away?


On his heels will be the second of the fearsome four, the wildcard Remco Evenepoel. This young cyclist from Belgium burst into the scene after getting dropped from the under-16 national Belgian team for football (that’s 2/2 for cyclists that are top-tier in multiple sports). Evenepoel has suffered some horrendous crashes - including one this year - despite which he continues to return and remain (inconsistently) at the top of the cycling world. On his best day, he can beat almost anyone. But on an average day, he could also be at the back of the pack. This is his first Tour de France, and though he may be suffering from the crash at Itzulia Basque Country, if things go his way he could easily podium. Win? Never say never.


Lastly, we have the duo of Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard. Together, they have taken the top 2 positions in the last three Tour de France editions. This year, Tadej enters the race having won the 2024 Giro D’Italia in one of the most dominant performances ever seen in cycling. Jonas, meanwhile, enters hobbled, having broken his collarbone and ribs in the same crash that took Roglic and Remco out of action earlier this year. Tadej has with him possibly the best team ever assembled in cycling. Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Jonas brings with him what remains of the Visma Lease-A-Bike team (teammmate Wout van Aert, - an all around superstar - is still recovering from a broken collarbone, and Sepp Kuss - a climbing superdomestique - is out of action with COVID). For Tadej, it’s a question of “How big will the victory margin be?”, for Jonas it’s hushed whispers of “Does he really stand a chance?”.
As it goes in sports, when titans take the stage, you best take a seat.

The stage is set. June 29. Where’s the popcorn?

TdF what to watch calendar from here


A similar post I wrote on tennis is here
My thread on Tour de France from when I first started following cycling is here