Monday, June 11, 2012

Snobbery Against Sport

As European Championship fever grips the country, people respond in all kinds of ways. There are the soccer and sports fanatics, mostly men and boys, who have been counting down the days and who will feel cheated if they miss a single throw-in of the tournament. There are the fairweather fans who generally take no interest in soccer, or maybe even sport, but who get drawn in to the hype and excitement. There are the soccer widows and the generally uninterested, who roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders and maybe force themselves to watch a little, if only to bond with their loved ones. Perhaps they even find themselves enjoying it.

Then there are the other crowd, the anti-sport snobs, who will mutter about bread and circuses and the cult of soccer and generally congratulate themselves on taking no interest.

As for me, I belong firmly in the "generally uninterested" camp. I don't follow soccer or any other sport, although there was a time when I took a keen interest in soccer. I'm still able to watch a match on TV and enjoy it (usually cheering for the underdog). I find most field and court sports pretty enjoyable to look at-- I had a great time at a baseball game in America last year, although that was as much for the atmosphere and the audience participation as the action on the field.

Whenever I have participated in sports (I was never any good) I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and even now, when I see kids kicking a ball around, I itch to join in.

So I am not a sportsfan or sportsman, but I am not proud of this. I am rather a little ashamed of it, just as I am ashamed of my lack of appreciation of classical music or my economic ignorance or my inability to play a musical instrument. Surely sport is an aspect of being human, and not to appreciate sport is a kind of philistinism.

I remember I had a lecturer once who made several withering comments about sports as a hobby. He swam for the sake of his health, he said, but aside from that he regarded preoccupation with sport as a waste of time. He described it as "form without substance".

I've chewed over his description for years, long after I forgot most of what he was actually trying to teach. Form without substance? Couldn't you say the same about instrumental music of every kind, about abstract art, about dance, about fireworks and chess and a million other things?

I will never understand people who want to diminish life. I don't understand anti-government anarchists who want to do away with politics and the State. Isn't society enriched by having a public life and a public square? Wouldn't they miss that?

Nor do I understand atheists who wish that all the churches and synagogues would fall into disuse. Surely they see society would be the poorer for it, even if they aren't believers themselves?

One of my favourite poems is "Snow" by Louis MacNeice, with its justly famous lines:

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

So, while I understand people complaining about the commercialization of sports, or the role soccer might play in globalization, or the possibility that too much sport distracts from more important matters, I have no sympathy at all for those who sneer at this whole field of human activity, and who think that doing so proves them to be cultured and serious-minded.

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