LONDON: A childhood game played in school playgrounds the world over, tag has been transformed by a British enthusiast into an extreme sport, attracting world athletes and a James Bond movie actor.
Fast moves and dodging are essential in a game of “Chase Tag”, the new sport which sees players race around obstacles trying to catch each other.
The idea came to creator Christian Devaux after playing tag with his son, who challenged his dad to find out who was really the best.
“We decided to introduce obstacles into the garden. We had a bin, and some chairs, and a bench,” he tells AFP. “Then the obstacles just grew and grew more complicated”.
Devaux’s garden game led him to create Chase Tag in 2015 with its own set of rules.
This month the sport held its second tournament with six teams of four players competing.
Often used for boxing matches, the York Hall venue in London has been cluttered with obstacles as the athletes take part in the tournament’s 20-second matches.
The rapid race features two players, one tasked with catching the others in the short time frame. Each catch gives a team one point, while anyone who escapes uncaught with their nifty moves gets three points.
While the players are seen concentrating as they leap and dart around the pitch, there’s a light-hearted atmosphere.
“It appeals to our childish side,” said Mehdi Hadim, a member of the Blacklist team.
“Everyone’s played tag. And the game we play here has placed it at a new athletic level.”
Extreme sports are defined as recreational activities involving a high level of physical exertion.
James Bond movie skills
The first non-British team to take part in a Chase Tag competition, Blacklist brings together four young men from the Paris region.
The team is already skilled at parkour, which sees people perform often risky acrobatics mostly in cities.
“We discovered it in January by watching videos on the internet,” said 25-year-old Valentin Dubois.
For Sebastien Foucan, co-founder of parkour in France, Chase Tag “is a very technical type of sport but also very tactical. As you move, you reflect, you think ahead”.
“You also have to analyse your opponents and act accordingly. For example, someone big goes under the obstacles less often,” said the 43-year-old French athlete, who put his skills to the test as a James Bond villain in the film “Casino Royale”.
‘Don’t get caught!’
Taking part in the competition, broadcast live on Facebook, is demanding and Blacklist trains several times a week, combining gymnastics, weightlifting, athletics, climbing and parkour.
The team has a motto — “Don’t get caught!” — which doubles as the golden rule of Chase Tag.
As well as the formal competition, Devaux has also arranged matches in one of London’s famous parks.
“You can do it anywhere,” he says. “When we first decided to do the meet-ups, we were just using barrier tape (to build obstacles) in Hyde Park. We had all kinds of people doing it.”
The sport has already come full circle, with 13-year-old fan Leo-Paul saying he plays Chase Tag in the playground.
“At the beginning, my mates didn’t understand, they said that it was a thing for kids,” he said, having travelled with his mother from Paris to help out at the tournament.
But when he showed it to them on Youtube videos “they were amazed. Now, we do our own route in the playground,” he said.
He discovered the game last year, having heard about it through Devaux’s son, and he knows the Blacklist players.
With only a few dozen competitors, the sport is still in its infancy but there are already promising signs.
Players in India, Japan and the US have already shown their enthusiasm, posting videos online of their own Chase Tag matches.