Monday, March 14, 2016

Slingshot: The Next Tourism Craze?

It was one of those occasions many years ago (32 to be precise) when Mallorca, unaware of the gift horse whose mouth into which it should have been staring, failed to capitalise on some fine, free publicity for its tourism. Quite probably, Mallorca - as in official tourism authority Mallorca - would do likewise were the gift horse to be presented today, but unofficial social media Mallorca (and elsewhere) would be taking the horse to water and allowing it to drink deeply from the well of the island's traditions.

We're talking 1984, we're talking British TV and we're talking one of the most popular figures on the telly in those days of yore. Anneka Rice came hunting for treasure, she raced around the mountains, stopping off in Valldemossa, Deya and Soller and in the process discovered a very ancient art. So ancient is this art that a strong case has been made for the archipelago in which Mallorca finds itself having been named after it. The Greeks had a word for the skill of the locals. The skill was the use of a sling, the Balearics slinger - "foner balear" - was so adept and lethal that he became a hired hand for Carthaginians and Romans, and there was Anneka marvelling at the fact that there were these modern-day chaps engaged in slingshot and about to reveal a clue to her.

In Ses Salines a couple of weeks ago, they staged the third international "tiro con honda", aka "tir amb fona" competition: that's slingshot to you and me. Fifteen countries were represented and despite Mallorca's ancient slinging past, Spain failed to provide the champion. He was one Silvio Vass from Celle in Lower Saxony, who goes under the sling stage name of Silvio Jaegoor, a variation, one supposes, on the German "Jäger" to mean hunter.

Though it would be unlikely that you would have been aware of this grand sporting occasion, it was a sufficiently big enough deal to have attracted the backing of the Balearic Federation for Tir amb Fona (obviously), the town hall of Ses Salines, the hoteliers association in Colonia Sant Jordi and the district board for said resort. The contest itself was held in a street just out of Ses Salines itself. They'd wanted to hold it at the Talayotic site of Els Antigors. But because it was raining, the ancient site was given a miss, which was a shame: where better to have staged a contest for such an ancient art than by a pile of prehistoric Mallorcan stonework?

Despite the weather, the mayor of Ses Salines, Bernat Roig, expressed his satisfaction in the event. In fact, so satisfied was Bernat that he's hoping that the international contest will continue to be staged in his town. Moreover, he believes that it would do wonders for raising awareness of the ancient culture of Mallorca (and the Balearics), with its associations with the Talayotic period, and become something with which to promote the Mallorcan off-season.

Slingshot, it's probably fair to say, hasn't featured prominently in the list of tourism sports with which to attract the world's tourists to Mallorca in the off-season: it isn't really in the same sporting league as cycling or golf. But when one considers the nations represented at the international contest, well, you would think that there's some merit in adding it to the list. Tibet probably wouldn't be sending many tourists, but Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom ... ?

If not devotees of the art, then it might be aficionados of culture and history. This is, after all, something that can lay claim to being one of the most identifiable ancient aspects of the island. It doesn't come much more traditional and historic than hurling a stone from a sling.

Tir amb fona was one of those traditions which, unlike others, was never threatened with extinction because of official indifference and the migration from rural communities to the tourist resorts of the coast. Its practice has been uninterrupted since ancient times but its popularity did certainly wane. When guns came along, the stone became less relevant. But in hunting circles it remained a skill used by the minority.

When Anneka turned up in 1984 it was still a minority interest but it was beginning to take hold as a sport as opposed to being a means for hunting. It was to take a few more years but in 1997 they held the first ever Balearic championship in Lluc. Rules had been defined as were the distances. There is now a Balearic league. The sport is also included as a secondary school activity for physical education. A document explains its roots and its contemporary rules. It concludes with some advice. When starting out, take care that you don't endanger anyone. Practise using a tennis ball in order to avoid serious accidents.

Sound advice indeed.


Son Fe Mick said...

Perhaps the modern sport of mobile phone throwing could be added to the event. There are world championships for it as I understand!!

andrew said...

Would this involve throwing someone else's mobile - as in someone who is being terminally irritating - against a brick wall or into deep ocean? A winner, I'd say.