Streaking and Sport

In the early days of streaking, way back in the dark ages of March 1974, streaking occurred mainly on university campuses, where that sort of thing made a nice break from physics lectures and speeches by visiting dignitaries. But it didn't take long for the craze to go public, and so nude runners began to appear in restaurants, libraries, protest rallies and other places that were desperately in need of public nakedness.

Before long, the fad had reached a point where almost every public arena had been exploited, the most famous being Robert Opel's televised streak at the 1974 Academy Awards. It was at this point that streaking crossed paths with sport. Streakers realised that major sporting events offered the best chance of displaying themselves to large numbers of people, and possibly causing the biggest kerfuffle. An added bonus was when the event was televised, and so the streaker could gain exposure to an audience of millions.

Michael O'Brien has gone down in history as the first streaker at a sporting event when he ran onto the field during an Australia-England rugby match at Twickenham. The Australian accountant had run naked into the fray to fulfil at 10 pound bet. The streak has become one of the most famous in the world, mainly due to the photo featuring Michael, arms spread in a Christ-like pose, surrounded by London policemen, one of whom has carefully placed his bobby's hat over the streaker's privates. In a recent documentary, the police officer involved revealed he had done so out of sheer embarrassment. "I didn't know what to say so I gave him the caution: 'You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, etc.' So Michael turns around and says 'Give us a kiss'"

Before long, streakers were appearing at sporting events with increasing frequency. Michael Angelow jumped the stumps during a cricket game at Lord's, and this began streaking's long and illustrious association with that sport. In the mid 70's it was normal for at least 1 streaker to appear during a match, and the players soon became a little tired of their antics. Australian captain Greg Chappell took his bat to a streaker on two separate occasions, with assault charges arising out of the second occurrence.

Despite the player's frustration, streaking has always been popular with sporting crowds. This may be due to the fact that some sport, especially cricket, can become a little boring in parts. Photographic evidence of crowd reaction invariably shows thousands of smiling faces, glad for a distraction. Many find it the perfect protest against the growing corporatisation and corruption of sport. Others think it's the best giggle since McEnroe stopped playing tennis, or since John Daly got back on the wagon.

In the 80's, broadcasters stopped showing streakers during sporting events, in the hope that the loss of exposure would discourage potential runners. The result of this is that TV viewers are sometimes confronted with long, detailed shots of seagulls, while the crowd is roaring madly in the background. To the newcomer, this fascination with sea birds can seem more than a little strange.

In Australia, authorities at sports arenas clamped down on streakers and pitch invaders after a seven separate incidents during a one-day cricket match in January 1996. Previously, streakers faced public indecency fines of around $150. New laws introduced fines of $5000 for pitch invasion, and this promptly put an end to any threat of public nudity during an international match. Since then, streakers at Australian sporting events have been particularly rare, and sports lovers have had to look to recent European and British streakers for fun. Administrators in these countries have been looking closely at the Australian legislation, to see if they can introduce the same restrictions.

Durham County Cricket Club recently came up with its own plan to discourage streakers. Any streaker, once caught, will be made to stand naked in full public view for 20 minutes. Given England's chilly weather, this is something of a nasty punishment. It will be interesting to see if it works, or if it will merely encourage extreme exhibitionists into the fray.

- Originally written in 2000