Competitive worm charming: captivating, yet cruel

A sport that has burrowed its way into the hearts of many, worm charming is here to stay.

A contestant tends to a patch of ground with the hope that it is riddled with worms. — Photo: Dollar Shave Club.

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

Yes, I was also surprised that this is an actual thing that people choose to do with their free time. But who am I to judge? I’m spending thousands of dollars and years of my life to get a piece of paper that probably won’t matter to me or my economic well-being after I graduate. 

Originating in England, worm charming, also known as worm grunting and worm fiddling is, quite simply, a sport that revolves around getting worms out of the ground. Participants use various tools, such as metal stakes, pitchforks, or even brass instruments like a trumpet to get as many worms out of the ground as they can in a given period of time. The dominant strategy in worm charming is based on the idea that, if you stick one of these main tools into a grassy patch and hit it with another blunt object to create vibrations in the ground, worms will wriggle to the top. Aided by this sonic intrusion into the worm community’s loam-based habitat, participants aim to secure victory by collecting more worms than the other competitors. 

The sport started as a quick way to gather worms for fishing bait. Then, in 1980, the first organized competition, called the World Worm Charming Championships (WWCC), was held in a small village in England called Willaston. Ever since, there has been a World Worm Charming Championship organized every year. Notably, a 10-year-old girl that obtained 567 worms holds the record for the most worms charmed in one hour. In addition to the annual WWCC, there have been national worm charming championships held in other places around the globe, including one in Canada in 2010.

However, when I thought further about this seemingly wacky and fun sport, I began to comprehend its dark underbelly. Not to be all “animal rights” but . . . (and I can’t believe I’m about to write this), what about the worms? Imagine being plucked out of your home and haphazardly dropped into an uncomfortable container with a medley of other people, only to be promptly dumped back onto the ground in some other random place. You would be shaken, possibly traumatized. I know I would. 

Based on this, I’m not that surprised this sport started in England, given their extensive history of global imperialism and displacement of other nations and cultures. 

Despite these important critiques, this bizzare sport is still very interesting and endearing to take in. After watching a few videos of various competitions, they seem like great family events where kids can have fun with their families and interact with nature. Also, seeing someone play a tuba into the ground in an attempt to get worms from it doesn’t not make me laugh.

Overall, this strange sport is just that. Strange. Take a walk into your backyard, over to your local park, or even to a grassy patch on campus and give it a try. Maybe your efforts will provide the spark that starts a competitive worm charming team at SFU. Maybe it will even start a new trend in the post-secondary sports scene that sees schools duke it out for the chance to fly to England to battle the best of the English worm-charming families. Or maybe, if you want to spare the poor worms further trauma, just binge watch some laugh-inducing YouTube videos of it. I know I will.