Welcome to the HUTC Blog, sharing some of our experiences as we cover  the more unusual news stories, travel to far flung places and meet the most engaging people doing extraordinary things.

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Making Football Fairer – a bid for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Presidency

It was a joy working with James Peace and the talented team at CSM recently in Abu Dhabi on Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi’s bid for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation. Speaking at Louvre, Al Romaithi outlined his manifesto, entitled “Making Football Fairer

The man hoping to upstage current Asian Football Confederation (AFC) current President from securing a third consecutive term believes the time is ripe to bring about a change in leadership. He also relishes a fresh approach to improving the Asian football game.

Mohammad Khalfan Al-Romaithi believes his experience in sports places him in a perfect position to bid for the Presidential seat.  He hosted a lavish news conference to spearhead his campaign for Asian Football’s top job. Romaithi is challenging Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family, for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation in April.

As you’d expect, money was not in short supply at the press conference nor will it be an obstacle for gaining support for his vision. He has promised a $320 million (£240 million/€285 million) “Fair Fund” for the development of football across Asia, money raised with the help of backing from the United Arab Emirates Government and new sponsors.

The vote for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Presidency takes place on 6 April, so not long to wait to see if the efforts from the press conference paid dividends.

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The last bastion of amateur sport – The Cresta Run

The last bastion of amateur sport – The Cresta Run

The last time we covered this event was back 2006 – The world was a very different place then. But I’m pleased to report that during this time things haven’t changed much.

The World famous Cresta Run is held every year in Switzerland’s glitziest town. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club is well over 125 years old and for those with suitable dosh, dash and clean underpants – it’s the ultimate adrenalin fuelled thrill.

Blue–ribbon event

The Grand National is the blue–ribbon event of the short Cresta Run Tobogganing season in St Moritz in Switzerland. The event has been described as ‘the last bastion of amateur sport’ and is the only toboggan run in the world devoted to head-first sledding.

Each year 21 brave riders make three runs down the World famous course. It has ten corners and is 0.75 miles (1.2 km) long. Riders can reach a brain-rattling speed of 80mph.

Unlike a bobsled track, which is man-made with high-banked corners the Cresta is hand-made from natural ice with no concrete or wood support. It has a 514ft drop in altitude and its banked curves, given descriptive names like ‘the horseshoe’ ‘Stream corner’ and ‘Shuttlecock.’

‘Shuttlecock’ is most notorious and feared part of the course. It’s a sweeping left-hander with relatively shallow banking. If they approach it too fast, and many do they end up coming off often damaging themselves, if not their pride.

The Run is an extreme sport that provides a thrill according to members unlike any other. Riders have reached speeds of up to 80mph.  Completely bonkers when you think that they are laying on little more than a tea tray, with leather knee and elbow pads, gloves with metal plates, helmet, chin guard and spiked boots.

Every rider who crashes at Shuttlecock automatically becomes a member of the Shuttlecock Club, and is entitled to wear a special tie for bragging rights.

All competitors taken on the challenge at their own risk and must sign a liability disclaimer before taking part.

If you have a liking for the unusual, check out our other blog posts

777 World Marathon Challenge

777 as it’s getting to be known was an astonishing logistical, physical and extreme challenge that saw 40 athletes from around the world run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. It is without doubt one of the toughest endurance races on earth. 

 

The first marathon took us to a Russian airbase called ‘Novo’ in Antarctica, where under clear brilliant blue skies, the first leg started at half past one in the morning. The clock had started ticking as the countdown of 168 hours to run 7 marathons on 7 continents had begun.

 

After Antarctica, hitting minus 35 degrees Celsius  we headed to the heat of Cape Town where runners completed their marathon at a scorching 35degrees, then onto Perth, Dubai, Madrid and Santiago all in under six-days. The final race took place in South Beach, Miami and started around 10 pm in the evening on the Wednesday. 

 

British runner Susannah Gill crossed the finish line of the last marathon, with tears in her eyes; she ran her way into the record books after completing all 7 legs of the challenge in 24 hours, 19 minutes, nine seconds to beat the previous record by more than three hours.  She had averaged 3:28:09 for each race, amazing when you think she suffered from jet lag crossing global time zones, varying heat and running terrains and very little sleep. For the men’s race it was Michael Wardian who clocked up wins on every leg!

 

Happy to report our efforts gained extensive World-Wide media attention, great to see a good news story doing so well.

Preparing for 24,000 miles around the globe

Travelling back to the frozen continent next week – this time we are heading to Novolazarevskaya Station or ‘Novo’ for short. It was a former Soviet Antarctic research station and is now an airstrip that serves research related transits and is the location for the first leg on this year’s World Marathon Challenge.

 

So what is The World Marathon Challenge?  Simply, it’s an amazing logistical, physical and extreme challenge that will see 40 athletes from around the globe run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days! Fortunately, I won’t be running – I’ll be covering the races and the event for our international media coverage.  

We will travel approximately 24,000 miles around the globe whilst experiencing nearly 50 degree temperature changes, sleeping on route as we fly to the next destinations and living off airplane food, all in less than 168 hours.

 The cut-off time for each of the seven marathons is eight hours; this is to keep to the strict logistical schedule which is in place. We roughly have only 12 -15 hours on each continent – bonkers isn’t it?

 The first marathon gets underway in Antarctica scheduled for 31st January, weather permitting, then on to South Africa, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Chile and finally the USA.

 After we have finished, I might just retreat to a hotel and sleep for 3 days!

 

Read the blog from the 2019 World Marathon Challenge

Packing for Antarctica

Packing for Antarctica

A few people have asked me how I prepare and pack for a trip to Antarctica.

Firstly, I have been extremely lucky as I have worked on the frozen continent many times in the past seven years, the forthcoming trip will be my 12th visit. I know, bonkers isn’t it and a real privilege!

I have learnt some tricks of the trade when travelling to such a harsh climate – for extremely cold conditions, layering clothing is the real key to working in comfort. There’s one piece of advice I was told on my first trip: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I think it’s a phrase those hardy souls in Scandinavia came up with, but it’s just as relevant in Antarctica.

My clothing consist of the following: base layers, mid/insulated layer (lightweight down jacket), full-faced balaclava’s x 2, goggles, gloves x 2 and mittens, arctic boots, a buff and finally an outer or shell layer (the weather proof natural down parka is the best you can get) Also a must are the sun glasses, lip balm and sun cream.

I also pack several zip-up sandwich bags and some foil roll, useful for keeping the batteries warm whilst out filming, also pretty handy for any hot nibbles I might find in the camps mess tent before heading out.

This year my camera equipment will include: the Sony FS5, Sony A7S II, Mavic Air drone, tripod, top light, an assortment of Sony microphones and the Mac laptop – looking at all the gear, I should really have got Sony to sponsor me! All that equipment, clothing and other essentials go into two large waterproof bags along with a wheelie peli case for my hand luggage.

This year there are 55 competitors who will be taking part in the Antarctic Ice Marathon, so I look for interesting characters; there are always people with an intriguing back-story.

But perhaps strangest of all, I also prepare mentally for this trip; the days before heading off I turn the shower to cold for the last minute before stepping out. I know it’s masochistic but it seems to help me adjust, although my son doesn’t half give me funny looks as I leave the bathroom wrapped in a warm bathrobe still with my teeth chattering and my knees knocking!

 

Extreme Ironing – Myth or Reality

Over two decades  HUTC has been covering and celebrating unusual sports, traditions, festivals and competitions. We are frequently asked what is the most peculiar of all.

There are certainly many candidates but just one outright winner and that is Extreme Ironing. This bizarre activity was to take us on a surreal journey over several years and over a decade after it’s emergence, it is something that intrigues people who ponder whether it was fact or fiction.

The ‘sport’ was devised by Phil Shaw and it combines extreme sports like rock climbing, riding bikes with the mundane domestic chore of ironing.

‘Steam’, as he is known, came home one day from his day job to a pile of ironing.  Being a keen rock climber he found the rumpled clothes less than a challenge, so decided to inject a bit of risk into this mundane chore.  

One small step for Phil, one giant leap for ironing. Steam recruited others and the first tentative steps were taken towards the formation of a new sport. In 2002 it had it’s first and as it turned out, the only World Extreme Ironing Championships just outside Munich in Germany. To say there was a media scrum would be an understatement and soon news of the event spread across the globe. It was only fitting that the title was won by Steam and his GB teammates who fortunately we had been following.

As it turned out, this was just the start of our long journey with Extreme Ironing. There are many highlights, not least the US Extreme Ironing Tour which was great fun organised by a team from Iron manufacturer Rowenta.  From a Boston Duck Tour to a Satellite Broadcast into Breakfast shows all across the East Coast of the US, it culminated in Times Square  with an appearance on Good Morning America!

 

 

Largely due to a photographic competition run by Phil’s team ‘The Extreme Ironing Board’ of course on his website (this was pre- social media), the sport quickly gained near cult status.  

Since then, Extreme Ironing has since disappeared but there is a lingering sense of whether it as myth or reality and perhaps this is why it has never completely gone away,  as this recent story from LadBible demonstrates.

  

 

Motoball – when two great sports collide

It is always a challenge finding new sports to cover, so I was excited to discover Motoball. Put simply, Motoball is the game of football on motorbikes.

In the UK there hasn’t been a team for nearly 50 years so UK Motoball hosted this exhibition match at the Dirt Bike show as a way to showcase the sport to drive a resurgence, recruit and build a team for 2019; The  European Motoball Championship, to be hosted in Germany. 

Whilst league, national and international matches are played on a full size football pitch, mostly outside, this exhibition match was played on an indoor pitch some half size, so play was restricted to 3 motorcyclists to each team with a goalkeeper who is on foot protected by a 6-meter D shaped area around his goal, this is off-limits to riders.

 

Known as one of the fastest team sports in the World, Motoball is exhilarating to watch and is great for spectators. The riders accelerate up and down the pitch at speed; expert manoeuvrability skills, lightning-fast reflexes and nerves of steel are the keys to outscoring your opponents. The gear changes are controlled from the handlebar, leaving the feet to carry and control the ball. Contact is however an integral part of this sport but excessive force is managed using a traffic light system of cards by the referee, similar to ice hockey with varying degrees of time in a sin bin, or ultimately to be sent off. Camaraderie is a strong element of this sport off the pitch, but during games rivalry is fierce in the pursuit of goals and glory.

 

With Motoball popular in many parts of Europe, it has a bright future. As a result of our news piece which on one platform alone got over 47 million views , UK interest has surged so it won’t be long before the UK once again finds its glory days.  For anyone who is looking for an exciting Sponsorship opportunity NOW is the time to get involved, so please feed back any interest.

 

Punters love a firm bottom

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to cover this quintessential British event – the Punting Championships.

It has to be said that this is one of the most graceful of all river sports. Punting of course has a long history on the river Thames with the earliest record of this Championship dating back to 1846. Aside from interruptions in the war years, and a break in the 1970s, this event marks 133 years of the championships.

It’s is a sport which pits single or double punts against each other in two-boat races along courses of 400 to 600 yards. They are essentially flat bottom boats, so long strong stokes are required to move the punt forward using the long poles, but the skill is keeping a straight course.

Punters need to be aware of conditions both above and below the water; the wind, wake from other river traffic as well as what lies beneath as the poles can hit differing material on the river bed such as soft ground, gravel, stones or even submerged obstacles.

Punting is a skilled sport that requires patience in order to learn how to react to the river and maintain control. It’s a lot of fun, especially for those who like messing about on the river!

 

The greatest show on turf!

They say it gets easier the more times you do it – I am not sure that’s right.

It was the 20th time that I had covered this unique race but I have to say camping in a field with 43 lawn mowers racing around can leave you lacking some sleep. My 13 year old son loved it – what’s not to like…. speed, engines, racing, crazy wonderful people… and yes …..the camping bit!

 

 

Motor sport doesn’t get much stranger than lawn mower racing, but to its hard-core devotees it is so much more than just a weekend pastime.

43 teams lined up for the highlight of the British and World’s Lawn Mower sporting calendar – the annual 12 hour Endurance Race – in the English village of Five Oaks.

This race is the pinnacle of the sports surprisingly busy racing calendar, and this year newbies to the sport and seasoned drivers alike, battled through the night to claim top honours.

At 8 pm Jim Gavin, the founder of lawn mower racing in 1973, lowered the flag to the delight of race goers who came along to see this very British spectacle.

The race commenced with the traditional Le Mans grid formation with the drivers running to their machines for the start. Prior to the start, a water bowser was set to work dampening the circuit to minimise dust, after the hot dry conditions but this made the circuit very slippery for the initial laps before it dried out. As darkness descended the circuit becomes a sea of light and the night is punctuated by mower headlamps streaking past and the distinctive hum of the machines.

12 hours of racing is hard enough, but the majority of the race is completed in darkness to make it technically more of a challenge, with each team fielding three drivers who swap around to combat fatigue, there is also a support team in the pits.

As dusk turned to night, the pit lanes became a hive of activity as mowers came in for refuelling, driver changeover, cleaning and repairs. Many breakdowns ensued but amazingly, most of the mowers were still in the race as the hours marched past.

5 times champions the wonderfully named “Northerners Kick Grass” from West Yorkshire, led from the first lap and built up a 9-lap lead. But there was a twist this year – 20 minutes from the finish they experienced a catastrophic steering problem, which sent them into the pits for repairs and ended their dream of another win.

In the end the victorious team was number 2 – “Les Lux Pussies” a team from Luxembourg who made history as the first overseas team to win this prestigious event.  They completed 430 laps in the allotted 12 hours and as a bonus also achieved the fastest lap time of 1:30:14.

 It may not be Formula 1, but in the world of lawn mower racing it doesn’t get much better than this. But perhaps next year I’ll hire a campervan….might be a tad more comfortable.

Quidditch World Cup – a venture into a surreal sport

It was my fault entirely, I asked Richard Turkowitsch the rules of Quidditch (he’s the PR person for Team Austria and one of the commentators) – I knew I had made a mistake when he hadn’t drawn breath for ten minutes. But his passion and panache for the sport was astounding. 

I had had a nightmare of a journey getting to Florence, flying Vueling (avoid them if you can) were really awful – I won’t go into details as it’s it would take far too long, but suffice to say I got to the stunning Italian city a day late.

I didn’t know much about the sport of Quidditch. I knew it was adapted from the Harry Potter novels around twelve years ago but I was impressed how many countries were taking part in this World Cup – 29-teams from as far away as Iceland, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Vietnam to name few. The first World Cup was held in Oxford in England back in 2012, when the United States took top honours, they won again in 2014 but the Aussies caught them  off guard to snatch victory two years ago in Frankfurt. 

This year’s tournament  was the biggest in the sports short history with over 800 players registered to compete.  

For those who don’t know – it’s like a cross between rugby and dodgeball and before you ask…..they don’t fly! The broom-sticks are replaced with a plastic tube which is shoved between their legs when they are in play.  I know, I know….…it does looks odd but it is fast paced and full contact.  Two teams of seven players compete, using four balls: three ‘bludgers’ used to momentarily knock opponents out of the contest and a ‘quaffle’ which a player can put through one of six ring-shaped goals to score.

Matches, well they last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. They are finished when the golden snitch – a tennis ball stuffed in a stocking worn by an independent player – is caught by a ‘seeker’. 

The snitch comes on after 18-minutes of play.  Each goal is awarded ten points and for the team that grabs the snitch, 30 points are awarded.  There are tons of other rules which I won’t bore you with – I can always send you in the direction of Richard Turkowitsch if you want to find out more! 

Each side must satisfy the gender rule where only a maximum of four players from either sex is allowed on the field at any one time.  

In the early rounds it was favourites USA and Australia who set the early pace, in the groups stages. The games were played in sweltering temperatures of between 33-35 degrees; each game which took its toll on the players and fans alike.

The in first semi-finals, “USA” beat “Team UK” to book their passage to their fourth (4th) final in a row. Underdogs Belgium, out played Turkey to gain a place in their first ever World Cup final.

The final between the USA and Belgium produced some quality Quidditch for the crowd of over 1000 people who mostly wanted Belgium to win – everyone loves the underdog don’t they!

Team USA scored some early goals and never really looked like losing the final.  It was left to their ‘seeker’ Harry Greenhouse to claim victory by grabbing the ‘snitch’ within minutes of it coming on. The final score was 120 for the USA against 70 for Belgium.

 In a sports world full of corporate sponsorship, diving football players etc it’s rather refreshing to see a bunch of adults running around with sticks between their legs having so much fun. Who needs fantasy football? 

  Still photos courtesy of Ajantha Abey

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