Ties That Bind Us

Last Saturday the British Horseracing’s Champion Flat Jockey contest was settled…in a tie. Seb Sanders and Jamie Spencer shared the title with 190 wins each for the season. No play-off, no decider, no outright winner. Now, even some UK based bloggers have argued that this was ridiculous- what major championship is settled without an outright winner? But generally, the reaction over here has been more appreciative of a close fought contest, rather than dismissive. There are some discussions about restructuring the rules, but this has to do with whether other metrics are intrinsically superior (e.g. season’s winnings, or ruling out races on all-weather surfaces) rather than the undesirability of a tie per se.

My point is that ties seem far more culturally acceptable outside of the US. Most obviously, tied soccer matches are an everyday occurrence, accounting for about one third of all league games. In cricket ties (as in soccer, these are called “draws” in Bringlish) are also commonplace, even for international test matches played over five days. Because there is no strike-out rule the chances are slim that all batters can be retired (“out”), even with the limitation of two innings per team. But there are two famous instances of “tied tests”, referring to the situation where the scores were level after all the batters had been retired.

No one suggests that it is a shame that these games did not have a winner; rather it is held to be a blessing that there did not need to be a loser. And that, I guess, is the rub. Americans used to have tied games, so that no one was a loser, but this never seems to have been seen as satisfactory- one (male) American once described a tie to me as “like kissing your sister”. I’m not sure that differences in the way we play our games tells us much about our characters, because too often the rules were set up to suit some Victorian administrator and then inertia has set in. But I wonder if the case of the tied game is the exception that proves the rule.

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Author: Stefan Szymanski

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