This weekend, the biggest annual sporting event is coming to my small European country. I’m talking of course about the Tour de France, which will start in the city of Utrecht. This small European country a record-holder – its the 6th time the Tour starts in the Netherlands, more than any other country (except France, of course).
Now, I am going to be brutally honest about it – I really don’t care about the Tour de France, or, in fact, about professional cycling all together. I find it an incredibly dull sport to watch. Its like watching waterfalls on the Zen Channel. For endless days, there’s nothing to see except a bunch of guys on bicycles. Sometimes they crash. That’s it. The only thing more boring to watch is car racing, with the NASCAR at the glorious top as the most boring thing ever on TV. Seriously, I would rather watch the broadcasting of Latvian Parliament during the summer recess than NASCAR. There’s a bigger chance something will actually happen.
But I digress, as usual. Back to cycling – not only is the Tour extremely boring to watch, the outcome is also set from the start. The favourite will win, and a few years later he will be stripped of his victory due to a doping scandal. He will, as usual, claim he “had to do it”, because not using doping would have made him helpless against the opponents who all use it and he would have had to “give up the sport he loves”. The notion that by using doping he already gave up sport as a concept, that he might as well have ridden a motorcycle and that he has damaged the sport he claims to love beyond repair is too difficult for his dope-laced mind to grasp. To me, the Tour is certainly not a sporting event – its nothing more than a big traffic hindrance. But it does have a practical use.
In Europe, there is a constant bickering about the definition of the regions of Europe. Since the West and the North are the richer parts, countries do not want to be labelled as “Eastern” or “Central” European – the ones further to the East claim to be Central, and the more centrally situated countries strive to be known as “West European”. Other continents have a very useful tool to decide which country belongs to which region – the continental football association regional scheme. Wondering whether Birma is a South Asian or South-East Asian country? Check the map – its South-East. Does Mexico belong to North or Central America? North, of course, since its in the North American Zone.
The UEFA, on the other hand, is not divided into sub-regions, which opens the door to a debate about which country belongs where. Europe is divided into sub-regions by various authorities like the UN Statistical Division or the CIA Factbook, but these divisions are rather arbitrary and are too debatable.
That’s where the Tour de France comes in handy. Since the 60’s, the Tour has been visiting countries other than France on a regular basis. Put them on the map, and you’ll see a very distinct geographical limit of the Tour. I find “countries visited by the Tour de France” a very fitting definition on “Western Europe”. Portugal is the only exception here, but I think this map is a clear call to the organizers of the Tour to correct this obvious mistake and to include Portugal in the Tour route as soon as possible. All we need is a similar set of tools to define other regions of Europe. Anyone has a suggestion?