CAIRO: Somebody invented running. Somebody invented swimming. Then came speedball and somebody had to invent that, too. The individual in question is an Egyptian, Mr Lofty, who came up with speedball in the 1960s as a warm up and practice exercise for tennis players in Egypt.
For those of you who don’t know the first thing about speedball, allow us to bring you up to speed. Speedball is played by one player, or two or four (two against two). The solo player is the unique feature of speedball since he plays against the clock in four variations: one racket right hand, one racket left hand, two rackets forehand, and two rackets backhand.
A rubber ball is attached to a five-foot-long monofilament nylon cord fastened to a ring that rotates freely around a spool. The ball’s special design enables it to travel at speeds nearing 190 km/h – hence the intelligent naming of the game. Speedball is best played on the beach, not least because you’ll always find some very buoyant beach blondes trying unsuccessfully to play it well.
Speedball should not be confused with speedball. The speedball we don’t play involves a 60 m by 40 m netted arena full of big, inflatable obstacles. The aim of the game is to capture a flag from the center of the arena and take it over to the opponent team’s home base. There is a woodland version where you lurk around Rambo-like in the underbrush trying not to be spotted.
Nor should speedball be confused with speedball. The aim of this other speedball we don’t play is to throw, kick, smash, or head the ball (ideally a volleyball) into a hockey or indoor soccer goal.
Nor should speedball be confused with speedballing, where you mix heroin and crack.
The speedball Egyptians play is of such quality that we are the world champions. Earlier this month, Egypt captured the 20th World Speedball Championship in Japan for the second year in a row.
Since the championship was held in Japan, it was a golden opportunity to introduce Egypt’s Ambassador to Japan Hisham Badr. I know Ambassador Badr personally (this is not bragging; just stating the facts). I asked the ambassador the following highly charged, highly sensitive, politically loaded questions:
“Mr Ambassador, have you ever played speedball?
“When we were young, we played a lot on the beaches with friends. I remember we used to call it beach ball because it was a summer sport. When the team was here [Japan] I took the opportunity to play a match with them. I lost of course.
“Did you know beforehand that Egypt was the world champion in speedball?
“Yes. Egypt invented this sport in 1961.
“Why do you think Egyptians are so talented in speedball?
“It was an Egyptian invention and practice makes perfect.
“Would you encourage your children to play speedball on a professional basis?
“I would encourage them to play speedball for fitness and fun because it is a very safe sport. Anyone can play speedball, anytime, anywhere. It would be a good hobby.
“If the speedball final was on TV at the same time as an Ahli-Zamalek match, which would you watch?
“In modern TVs, we have multi-channel screens. Luckily, we are able to do this in Japan.
Actually, we’re able to do that here as well.
Thank you, Mr Ambassador.
We forget to ask the ambassador whether he thought speedball could bring countries closer together, like ping-pong diplomacy got the US and China talking.
We’re not sure it can but we have exported speedball to many countries that enjoy it tremendously. It is, after all: Made in Egypt.