Saturday, September 23, 2006

This Sporting Life

In my youth, which no doubt many will hasten to remind me, was a long time ago and thus probably no longer relevant, I naively assumed that “sports” meant playing the game or participating in the event. Today is a Saturday and the airwaves on such afternoons are flooded with the sounds and images of games being played, but I’m willing to bet that 99.9% recurring out of those watching and undoubtedly criticising, have never taken part in any of them.

In a way it’s a pity that television is a one way street since I feel that the Rugby teams (and Soccer teams) that perform on our set of an afternoon could do well to listen to the pithy advice offered by my wife during their exhibition.

I place the blame for this trend toward spectator sports, as opposed to participant sports, on the Romans.

The Greeks had a pretty good sporting image, which at one time even included a contest for virgins, but I suppose, as time went by, the supply of participants dried up, rather as has the supply of uninjured cricketers in England.

But it was the Romans who put the kybosh on joining in the fun. Being a gladiator was a job with poor career prospects. I mean, two or three great performances, cheered by the crowd, could so easily be overshadowed by one thumbs down. It’s not surprising that the Romans turned into a nation of spectators and their influence has lingered on through the ages.

The result is that sport has now come to equate with bribery, corruption, drug taking, general mayhem and obscene amounts of money – which seems to be the sole reason for playing.

One of the greatest oxymorons of all time must be to refer to soccer as “the wonderful game.” And I would really like an explanation of what’s so wonderful about it? And no head butts about it.

American universities, with the honourable exception of Chicago, are funded by their football teams and, if you are big enough, you stand a chance of entering these halls of academia on the strength of it. If it happens to be a university with a basketball team, it helps to be seven foot tall.

I once had an American girl friend whose divorce settlement had included two ringside seats to the Florida State University games (Honestly!).With ulterior motives in mind, I attended a few of these performances. The occasions were marred for me by the absence of any alcoholic refreshment and a total inability to understand the game, which ran a staccato course where the players, looking like Action Men on steroids, bumped into each other on a pretty regular basis. The upside of the whole affair was that, unlike European soccer matches, one could usually get home unscathed. No doubt the proximity of Rome to audiences there has led to the gladiatorial influence invading the spectators area.

So, on the whole, I suppose it’s not surprising that we are now largely spectators and not performers, in spite of the money that might come our way.

The advantages are becoming clearer as I write. This afternoon, I can sit in comfort in my own home, drink in hand, and view a game without being jostled and harassed by a load of people that I have never met. Nobody’s funny hat is going to impede my view which should be unmarred as long as France TV does its stuff. My chances of being duffed up after the game for supporting the wrong team are minimal and, if it turns out to be as boring as an American football match, I can just nod off.

You have to admit that it beats all that “We who are about to die, salute you” nonsense that you get involved with as a player.

The Romans, as so often, had a point.


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