Sport. Well. A lot of people already know my thoughts on the subject. Probably not quite accurately, though. I’ll concede it’s something that brings out the best in people. But also the worst. And to be brutally honest those sorts of contradictions are why I think it – or at least many elements of it – are as redundant in civilised, modern society as a lot of elements of organised religion are. At this point I’ll preface the rest of this blog post by saying I mean no personal offence to any sports fan out there; many of whom I count among friends. This is a broad social analysis; in intent and – I hope – result. Normally my instinct would be to bury my most critical opinions further down in the post. When it comes to sport I’ll list them higher up and rely on you, dear reader, to read on further and put the entirety of what I’m trying to say into context. Sport has probably existed ever since, roughly 10,000 years ago, humans started farming their food instead of moving around to hunt and gather it, and built their cities nearby to these farms. In fact and not just if you count hunting (which is something fish like sharks do, for context) as a sport, the activity has been going on for a lot longer. Straight away, my criticism of that history in any way making especially physical, violent competitive sport relevant today is simply that it is and should be simply that: history. In evolutionary terms it might not go back very far. But in terms of human civilisation it is, in my opinion, the most outdated thing we still for some reason value very highly. I don’t understand why, about half a millennium since the Renaissance, something so base, uncouth and downright barbaric as physically violent sport is so relevant today – especially in Australian society. And I don’t think I’m alone. I once benefitted from wise words by a senior policeman who at least partially blamed drunken violence on obsession with UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). I’ve also heard UFC likened by I can’t remember who to “human cock fighting”. It totally is. It’s an ugly, messy celebration of the worst human behaviour has to offer. Though I think sports like football have less of an influence on brutish, Neanderthalian behaviour. Even boxing has many technical, sporting elements that require tactics, talent and skill. At the end of the day it’s still a couple of blokes (or women) belting shit out of each other for no real reason though. Remember that movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe? Crowe’s character Maximus, though he was a soldier, was never a fan of the sport he was forced to participate in – a sport I obviously know is not officially practised anymore. But I’m making a point. A soldier can understand his role is dictated by unfortunately unavoidable local or international conditions. A sportsperson, though. If I was to stand as a player on a sports field these days I’d pretty quickly wonder what (and whom) I was standing there for. And why. Players would say the money, the prestige and the achievement. Ordinary people as players would say the fans. I’d say the (arguably undeservedly) wealthy and powerful men and women who profit greatly from every element of every game.
And profit really is what it’s all about. The real game isn’t actually happening on the field. The footy or other pitch is just where a small element of the business of sport plays out. Scrutinised a football field lately? It’s literally painted with advertisements. Eye-catching beer ads adorn the field. Ads of every conceivable type are splashed around the stadium, on the players and even the fans. It’s a bloody consumerist nightmare not waiting to happen, but happening. Even in the international epicentre of mindless marketing driven consumerism, the United States, its national football code NFL doesn’t feature nearly so much in-game advertising. Just look at the problems we’ve had with spoiled rich brat borne online gambling brand Tom Waterhouse. For some reason television execs thought it was appropriate to have him assault viewers’ senses with advertising that infiltrated every part of football – from the field to the commercial breaks and even to the bloody commentary box. Until they were encouraged by public, media and governmental outcries to think about what they were doing. How did it get this far? If people really enjoy the sportsmanship and competition elements so much why does sport have to be so heavily mixed with merchandise, gambling, booze and propaganda? I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve missed something. It’s just that even if all this stuff is a little more sub-conscious and secondary or tertiary or further down in importance to the game itself than it is for me, the negative or at least redundant nature of it is no less, arguably, there. This is by far my greatest problem with sport in a modern context. Too much commercialism cheapens everything. And the reason it “cheapens” everything is that it directly makes some people poorer and others wealthier. I guess one of the reasons why sport is so freakishly popular in Australia is probably in many ways directly due to our perception of ourselves as secular, even if we may individually identify as religious. God. God would be concerned. God would be very concerned if religion operated in the same way as those other holy institutions, sports grounds, did. Imagine if there was XXXX Gold advertising all over and within your local church, and a bar at the back. Imagine if you could bet on the odds of your reverend or priest or imam quoting certain parts of your holy book over others, through odds transmitted from the pulpit and gambling websites advertised all around you. It would be pretty blasphemous. I don’t understand why it’s not considered blasphemous in the context of something so many Australians take just as if not more seriously than religion – sport.
I’ve basically covered all the negatives I can be bothered with. As far as I can tell even a lot of the positives (many of which can be interpreted as negatives) are not really understood by a lot of people. Sport is the great unifier and divider. Fans are doggedly devoted to the local, regional and national team they support. And they’re just as doggedly against rival teams. Sport is in many ways the best and healthiest replacement we have for that other releaser of tensions between various groups of people: war. It might sound crazy, but I guarantee you if not for peoples’ mad love for their sporting team against another team, especially in an international sense, we would have more war. It’s kind of a good way of saying: “Ok. I hate you and you hate me. But if your team wins on Saturday I’ll admit that you’re better – for now at least”. As much as I see this as a good thing, it drives me crazy that people will trust a bunch of other people at their physical but not necessarily intellectual or moral peaks with an important element of their place in the world. At least most people are able to leave it at that when the result is decided. Not all of them though. Just look at soccer in some places. Fans of the team that loses sometimes start fights which have on some unfortunate occasions led to scores of people dying. Of course I guess more than just the result of the game contributes to sad events like this. Some people bring too many of their personal and social issues to the table to see them decided on the sporting field. Man, if you want to get so emotional about things maybe just have a deep and meaningful conversation with a family member or friend – or mental health professional. Instead of irrationally thinking your favourite sport team or person can resolve issues they are probably neither aware of nor concerned about nor equipped to deal with. Sport’s supposed to be fun. It’s about getting a rush from winning and a renewed hunger for winning from losing. It’s about winning and good naturedly congratulating the other team or person for still putting in their best effort. It’s about losing and good naturedly congratulating the other team or person for being better, at least during that particular match up. Sport transcends cultural, racial, religious, sexual, political and individual boundaries and unites all people in a spectacle that makes life worth enjoying, respecting and simply living. The fact that I know it’s about all these things makes it largely unnecessary, to me, and I think we could better project our energies onto other things like science, art and literature that have more of a tangible impact on our societies. You could argue that I don’t from a scientific perspective actually know much about this at all. But I have studied sociology. For better or worse I do have a basic understanding of the way society works – or doesn’t.
So yeah. I don’t watch a lot of sport. Oh, I’ve been to footy (mostly AFL) games. And I’ve enjoyed them. It’s a good excuse to get out there with mates and enjoy the atmosphere of supporting whichever team you prefer, to the hopeful detriment of the team you don’t. The atmosphere is great. You get swept up in it. But there are other things with intoxicating atmospheres that I get swept up in. And they’re preferable to something like sport that I find so simply inconsequential. I suppose, like from reading a book or watching a movie, you learn things from sport. Things like team work, fairness, the importance of physical fitness and the importance of respecting people different to you. I’m probably arguing against myself now. My father played football. AFL, particularly. He played for Geelong during the 1970s in what was then known as the VFL. It probably helped make him the man he is today, even if that unfortunately includes injuries he sustained while playing. So it’s not as if I can’t see the benefits – and pitfalls – of playing sport in the pretty stark light of my greatest male role model. It’s just that, outside of him, I see more pitfalls or redundancies than positives in sport. There are only so many hours in the day. When it comes to interests, I’m hard pressed to consume enough politics, music, literature, film and even art for my liking to have much time at all for sport. Fortunately, it’s impossible to know nothing about sport in Australia. There’s an entire section of TV and print news dedicated to it, for God’s sake. When it comes to gambling, I’m not likely to lose much money from sport because I don’t know enough about what’s happening to risk chucking my money away. And when sport comes up in conversation I guess I’ll either participate as much as I can or want, or I’ll just zone out and think about politics or books or human rights or something. Noticed politics in this country lately? It’s crazy. Worth paying attention to. And if you miss a game or two of the footy I guarantee it’s less likely to have a negative impact on you or your society than if you didn’t pay attention to as much of local, regional and national politics as you could. Or you could pay some attention to what corporations are up to. Maybe think about what or who really runs this country (and what or who runs people we think we choose to run the country). You could come to some shocking realisations.