SOCHI, RUSSIA - The greatest winter sport most people have never heard of is being bandied about as the next new winter Olympics event. To date, 29 countries, including Somalia and the U.S. have bandy federations.
The first recorded games of bandy on ice took place in The Fens during the frosty winter of 1813-1814. In fact, England won the European Bandy Championships in 1913, although most people there have absolutely no knowledge of the game.
When polled by phone, Mrs. Sara St. Tibbles, a resident of Bluntisham-cum-Earith, near St Ives (where bandy originated), replied, "Brandy? Yes, I've heard of brandy - love the drink, especially on those cold winter nights."
Bandy, a type of game in which skaters use sticks to direct a bright orange ball (the size of a tennis ball) into the opponents' goal, is surprisingly similar to hockey, but not the same as hockey because the goalie has no stick and there is no puck, therefore more players have most of their teeth.
Physical contact between opponents is limited, although players can tackle and make interceptions like in football, therefore they are required to have a helmet, a mouth guard, and other things to protect body parts. The goalie gets a face guard as in hockey.
The game is played in two halves, like NCAA basketball, of 45 minutes each, like soccer, on a ice rink about the size of a soccer field. In fact, bandy has 11 players and rules that are similar to soccer, as well as terms, like "dribbling" that are similar to basketball. Referees, assistant referees, and goalkeepers are part of the game, as are forwards, midfielders, and defenders. There are stroke-offs, goal throws, corner strokes, free strokes (not to be confused with swimming), as well as penalty shots and face-offs, just like in hockey.
Olympic officials, who have been bandying bandy about since it was a demonstration sport played by Finland, Norway, and Sweden at the Oslo Olympics in 1952, are still trying to figure out the game. They have reportedly been studying the rules of bandy that were first published by Charles G. Tebbutt of the Bury Fen bandy club in 1882.
Gerald W. Poindexter, an Olympic Committee spokesman recently stated, "If we ever do figure out the game of bandy, we might come to some decision just in time for the next winter Olympics in South Korea. Or not."