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Why do I care who runs the fastest? Or jumps really high?

September 24, 2010

For several years now, my attitude towards organised competitive sport – and its wild tribe of supporters- has been of unqualified disdain. Unsurprisingly, people don’t take it well when I tell them this.

Usually they respond with a knowing leer, dismising me as a pretentious “bookish type” trying to drown my atheletic shortcomings in incomprehensible and irrelevant writings and fancy-talk.

In a liberal world where most opinions are up for challenge and honest debate, the love of competitive sport is surprisingly off-bounds. It is acceptable to dislike a sport, but to disparage sport itself is considered high treason. So I thought that with all the scandal emerging from the Commonwealth Games, if there was ever a time to argue for my dislike of competitive sport, it is now.

See, the truth is I genuinely enjoy playing sports! I think its fun.

But I can’t bear watching or *shudder* supporting sports teams with any degree of seriousness or passion. And the only thing more tiresome than people who take their team loyalties hyper-seriously are the haughty explanations they offer:

Explanation 1: “It is a form of human achievement”

Not really. It has always mystified me why, centuries after our furry anscenstors moved out of caves and decided to become civilised, it is still considered a human achievement to run really fast or jump really high or very long. Of what relevance to humanity is the information that some people, if they train, can swim really fast? Of what significance is it that now an Indian man is better at wrestling other men, than anyone else in the world?

Some of our more blanatly medival sports are shining examples of non-achievement: throwing a spear (javelin), throwing a heavy black ball (shot putt), shooting arrows (archery), sword fighting (fencing) and that pinnacle of non-achievement- lifting really heavy things(weight lifting)!  Now really, how the copulation is lifting heavy things a sport? Or an achievement? Or even desirable? For gods sake, why should it matter which human being can lift the most amout of weight???  Who cares?

I don’t buy the “it’s a human achievement” line.

Explanation 2: “But sports requires skill, self-discipline and concentration”

So does shooting peas from your nostril. Or spitting into a tea cup from across the lawn. Or balancing an umbrella on your fingertip. Or catching a window-seat on the 7.15 Virar-fast out of Churchgate station. But you don’t see those on the Olympics list.

It’s high time we admit that the division between pea-snorting freaks and long-jumping atheletes is a false and arbitrary one. There is no other explanation for why throwing a heavy black ball is considered a sport but pulling a truck with your tongue isn’t.

Explanation 3: “But sports builds bridges and brings people together”

Bullshit! Modern competitive sport is one of the most divisive and polarising civilian activities I can think of. 

George Orwell wrote this in an essay “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations…Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred,one could deduce it from general principles. In sport essentially people want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated. Serious sport…is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting”.

If any of you have ever attended an India-Pakistan cricket match you know what Orwell was talking about. If you followed the French team in the SA World Cup, you know he means. And if you ever had a “colony team” that played cricket tournaments with the “baahar waali” teams, you know exactly what he means.

Sports players are often referred to as gladiators. The comparison isn’t a coincidence. Gladiators weren’t exactly ambassors of peace. Neither are sportsmen.

(NOTE: If your illusions of sport as tool of global peace and unity persist, I suggest you read this brilliant piece from the Onion “You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area”

I would like to end this rant by paying tribute to the only thing more useless than sports- Sports Quizzes.

Ever since the weak and the nerdy were excommunicated from society for not caring enough to kick a ball or whack a bat at it, they have searched for a way back in. Along came the sports quiz.

The nerds reasoned, “Sure, we can’t run really fast or kick a ball with much accuracy. But we can memorise who can! And we can compete with each other to see who memorises more information!! And then people can test us to see whether we know who was the fastest swimmer in 1987 or who jumped the longest jump in 2005. Was it longer than the longest jump in 2008? We’ll memorise everything! Why? Because we also love sports! Gaarrrhh!! Woo Hoo!! and Wooo!!”


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Swati permalink
    September 24, 2010 6:09 pm

    Well sports are just like any other form of entertainment, aren’t they? Why do we make movies or write books? I’m thinking because some people are gifted with creativity – others know how to make money out of it and well the rest of the world just needs something to occupy their time, something to talk about over coffee. Don’t deny the poor soul who cant sing a song but can lift thrice his weight his moment of glory.

    Everything doesnt have to be ‘relevant’ to you and me. Clearly you don’t a give a damn and I must confess that I don’t either 🙂

    PS: Just discovered your blog through facebook. Hope you are doing well.

  2. Deepika permalink
    September 24, 2010 6:48 pm

    so funnny!
    I love ” you will suffer humiliation when the sports team from my area defeats the sports tea from your area”

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