Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On Sport

I notice 'Andy' Burnham, the sports minister, says we are 'about to enter a glorious new era for British sport.' This will, presumably, be like the glorious new era for British cinema that was promised after the success of Chariots of Fire. Or not - but, either way, politicians in a democracy should never use the word 'glorious'. It is, like the word 'people's', tainted by association with murderous tyrannies. But, with the Beijing running and jumping contest about to start, what about this sport thing? Hamish McRae mounts a stout defence of sport as a good which is, I suppose, fair enough. There is, however, a big difference between the sport McRae is defending and the grotesque, bloated, politically-compromised corruption-fest the Olympics has become. McRae also says people who cycle 'may not think of themselves as taking part in a sport, but in a way they are.' I can see what he means but, by the same logic, couldn't I argue that I am taking part in a sport - motor racing - when I drive? Exercise and sport are often confused and I suspect it is this confusion that has inflated the Olympics to its present absurd proportions. Exercise is good for you, no question. Sport is a specific sub-set of exercise involving competition. This does not mean sport is good for you except to the extent that it helps you exercise. In fact, some sports - notably marathon running and snooker - are very bad for you. Also, if you need sport to make you exercise, then it may discourage you because it is harder to organise than simply exercising on your own. It is the idea of exercise and therefore sport as an unconditional good that has made the Olympics into the sacred lunacy it has become. Preening themselves in the glory of their unchallengeable virtue, the Olympics boosters are the Pharisees of the cult of exercise. The fact that this cult has failed - people have got fatter and sicker faster than ever since the workout cult go going in the seventies - and the fact that the Olympics is just another excuse to flake out in front of the TV are beside the point. We must bow down before the keepers of the flame.


  1. Okay, the Olympics is about games, not sport. Some games, and sport for that matter, don't require exercise. A relationship between games or sport and exercise is really coincidental. Sport involves competition. You can't say a bloke cycling to work is taking part in sport without also saying he is taking part in a different sport when he's involved in the running of his employer's business.

    Exercise is good, sport a waste of time.

    did you just add snooker while I was writing this rubbish?!

  2. If you don't think exercise is sport pop down to your local gym, sorry, sports recreation facility. They are killing themselves to prove that they can stay on the machines longer than their neighbour, and that's just the women.
    No mention of darts yet.

  3. I'm a fan of walking. You put one foot in front of the other and proceed in a leisurely fashion until you reach your destination. Along the way you can give many a cheery wave to puffing victims being chased by health fanatics and a host of businessmen with their special drinks and celebrity-branded "pro" gear to sell.

    Many great books have been written by people who walked from A to B and never went near a gym in their lives. Very few if any have been written by people who tried by other means, such as running (they dropped dead), sailing (they sank or disappeared), flying (they disappeared) or on horseback (they ended up eating the horse and walking anyway). I'd make an exception for Touching the Void. That was climbing but let's face it, he fell off.

  4. Exercise is clearly very bad for you: (i) it creates more free radicals, and thereby increases your chances of contracting cancer; (ii) it wears out your joints; (iii) it creates muscle, which turns to fat later in life when the earlier level of exercise proves to be unsustainable; and (iv) it causes accidents, such as broken bones and pulled muscles.

    The Olympics, though, are good, because they package together all the most boring sports in the world, and get them over with in a couple of weeks.

  5. There are only three sports: hunting shooting and fishing. The rest are games, as in Olympic Games.
    When people say China is the great hope of the future they haven't taken into account the Games. Any country that gets involved in such monumental nonsense must be unsound.

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  7. Not an original thought but for me sport is theatre, I suppose, and the Olympics theatre in the midst of a ludicrous circus - which possibly adds another level of realism (it certainly adds embarrassment for me). It's about futility, beauty, faith, doubt, fragility, success, failure, goodies, baddies. Helps if you know about the participants (and they are not all state-produced robots). And it helps if you can filter out the idiot voices. And don't know about economics.

    I might add that not all athletes are competitive simpletons who take pleasure in beating other people. Being good at an Olympic sport is usually a useless talent to have so good luck to all (the clean ones). Debloating is required though, no question.