In a world gripped by fear, marble racing proves welcome distraction

Mar 23, 2020, 5:44 AM

(CNN) — Different colored marbles race down a path curved in a sandy beach, crashing into one another as they vie for position.

A commentator excitedly narrates the action, breathlessly describing which marble is winning.

At the time of writing it’s a video that has garnered 34 million views.

With the sports world in disarray — amid the coronavirus pandemic — has marble racing’s time come?

What’s not in doubt is that in a world gripped by anxiety and fear, marble racing is proving a soothing distraction. Its fans even include ex-England soccer player Gary Lineker.

The viral beach video clip is actually from 2016 and from a channel on YouTube called Jelle’s Marble Runs (JMR), the brainchild of Dutch brothers Jelle and Dion Bakker.

Originally, younger brother Jelle did normal marble runs, but then Dion suggested he should be more adventurous.

“All the marble runs became quite boring,” Dion tells CNN. “I said to Jelle maybe we should just try some competition-like videos. So he did that and it worked very well!”

Four years on and the JMR channel has over 600,000 subscribers and a cumulative 53 million views.

The brothers started with the Marble Sand Rally and after that went viral they invented the Marblympics — which is now called the Marble League after a run-in with the International Olympic Committee.

The Marble League is an annual tradition that consists of 16 events where 16 different marble teams compete against each other.

The teams have different colors and individual identities with their own fanbases.

Teams include the Green Ducks, the O’Rangers and the Raspberry Racers.

The league has a vibrant community page on Reddit where fans post memes, videos and support their favorite team.

But is marble racing is a sport?

“It’s pretty serious now,” says Dion as he launches into an impassioned defense of marble racing. “People see it and experience it like a sport, a real sport.

“It’s blown my mind, people see it like that.”

He could be right; last year the Marble League was featured on ESPN8: The Ocho, a 24-hour takeover of ESPN2 inspired by 2004 film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” that showcases “seldom seen sports.” It also featured again in this year’s takeover.

In the past, JMR has even worked with a betting company that livestreamed races with viewers able to bet on the outcome in real-time.

Dion believes that there’s been an upsurge in interest as people have found solace in the sport amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s sucking you into another world free of war and everything in the human dimension, I think that’s the magic of it,” he says.

“It brings relief. I have a lot of messages and DMs from fans who thank us for the videos and what we do right now for them.”

In the past week, the YouTube channel has received 3.8 million views and gained over 78,000 new subscribers.

During the same period, the channel’s Twitter following doubled and Instagram following tripled.

The genesis of this marble racing series began over 30 years ago in the backyard of the brothers’ grandfather’s house.

“Jelle built the marble runs and I started helping,” Dion explains. “It was when he was four. Most people with autism have a preoccupation, one thing they only want to repeat and that was one of his [Jelle’s] activities.”

In a 2016 interview with VICE, Jelle said his form of autism means he is “really interested in moving things, sounds, lights, etc” and that building marble runs and racing marbles plays into this perfectly.

Fast forward to 2020 and Jelle is doing this full-time alongside commentator Greg Woods, who is from the US.

Meanwhile Anton Weber from Germany — known to the community as Mellacus — is the full-time PR and community manager, which he does alongside his duties as president of the Jelle’s Marble Runs Committee (JMRC).

The JMRC is made up of collaborators and fans from all over the world.

The channel also has a composer from Greece and a designer from Belgium.

“It’s a decision we made to have people from everywhere,” Dion says.

“It’s nice, it’s cool, it’s fun to have contact and communicate with people from all over the world.”

As well as organizing the Marble League, the inaugural season of Marbula One is currently being released weekly on YouTube — and in a similar way to Formula One — has qualifiers on Saturdays and races themselves on Sundays.

There are time splits, while the points system also mirrors F1 as well.

Constructing circuits can take up to three days, with filming taking another day, though according to Dion, this can go much quicker, with Jelle sometimes able to do two races in a day.

“If he has his flow, it’s going very well,” he says. “Sometimes he blocks [due to his autism] and it’s too much.

“Too much impulses and reactions from outside, and he can block a little bit.”

Amid the current upsurge in interest surrounding marbles, Dion has lofty ambitions for the series.

“I hope also to broadcast Marbula One on American television. That would be very cool.”

™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories


The luge and bobsled track will be in use for the World Cup....
TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer

Olympic luge champ Natalie Geisenberger expecting 2nd baby

Olympic luge champ Natalie Geisenberger of Germany is pregnant with her second child. Geisenberger has won the last three Olympic women's luge gold medals and is considered by many to be the most dominant athlete in her sport's history.
2 days ago
Salt Lake County is working to make sure its golf courses don't use as much water in the drought....
Martha Harris

Salt Lake County says it has decreased water-use on its golf courses

Salt Lake County says it has back water usage on its golf courses. The county says it has done by changing how they water.
5 days ago
Utah Falconz team members cheer in celebration...
Mark Jackson

Women’s football team Utah Falconz heads to national championship

Utah's semi-pro tackle women's football team, the Utah Falconz, will head to Texas on June 26 to face off against the Texas Elite Spartans.
21 days ago
boys soccer Utah injuries...
Becky Bruce

High school boys’ soccer put on probation for the high number of ejections

SALT LAKE CITY — The growing number of ejections in high school boys’ soccer prompted the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) to issue a yellow card, of sorts, for the sport. In soccer, a player or coach is ejected when they receive a red card. In such situations, a substitute for the disqualified player […]
23 days ago
FILE - United States gymnasts from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nich...
ED WHITE Associated Press

Simone Biles, other women seek $1B-plus from FBI over Nassar

The approximately 90 claimants who said they were sexually assaulted include Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, all Olympic gold medalists.
28 days ago
Figure skate age Olympics...
Associated Press

Figure skating minimum age rises to 17 before 2026 Olympics

The age limit will be phased in with 16-year-olds allowed to compete in the 2023-24 season. It will then rise to 17 for the season before the Olympics.
29 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
In a world gripped by fear, marble racing proves welcome distraction