Although most of my friends have given up any hope of persuading me by now, I used to get invited to attend meetings where prominent Christian sportsmen would speak about their faith. Presumably the principle is that if someone can hit a white ball into a hole with an assortment of sticks carried around a field by a paid lackey, what he has to say about Christianity is bound to be rivetingly interesting. I do miss the invitations: I enjoyed the blank stare that confronted me when I broke the bad news that I had never heard of the prominent sportsman. I have heard of Tiger Woods, though; I imagine he will soon be on a highly paid lecture circuit expounding the benefits of Buddhism.
I have a Facebook group called “Down with Sport”. Although I think the reasons for its existence are self evident, it isn’t wildly popular for some reason:
Yes, down with sport, all sport – including Canadian hockey.
First, because there is nothing like sport to induce the most asinine behaviour in otherwise normal people.
Second, because sport produces the most unsportsmanlike behaviour of any known human activity.
Third, because I don’t like it.
Fourth, because “sport” is a monosyllabic oxymoron.
Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like sport much, either:
Meanwhile, genial, welcoming, equable Canada, shortly to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is now the object of a stream of complaints from British and American sports officials, who say that their athletes are being denied full access to the venue’s ski runs, tracks, and skating rinks. Familiarity with these is important in training and rehearsal, but the Canadians are evidently determined to protect their home-turf advantage. According to one report in The New York Times, the Whistler downhill skiing course was the setting for an astonishing scene, as “several medal contenders were left watching over a fence as the Canadian team trained. ‘Everybody was pushing to get on that downhill,’ said Max Gartner, Alpine Canada’s chief athletic officer. ‘That’s an advantage we cannot give away.’ ” Nah nah nah nah nah: it’s our mountain and you can’t ski on it, so there, or not until we’ve had the best of it. “We’re the only country to host two Olympic Games [Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988] and never have won a gold medal at our Games,” whined Cathy Priestner Allinger, an executive vice president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. “It’s not a record we’re proud of.” But elbowing guests out of your way at your own party—of that you can be proud.
I didn’t have to read far to find the comment I knew would be made about this spiteful, petty conduct. A hurt-sounding Ron Rossi, who is executive director of something snow-oriented called USA Luge, spoke in wounded tones about a supposed “gentlemen’s agreement” extending back to Lake Placid in 1980, and said of the underhanded Canadian tactic: “I think it shows a lack of sportsmanship.”
On the contrary, Mr. Rossi, what we are seeing is the very essence of sportsmanship. Whether it’s the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want—as in Africa this year—or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars’ homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit,” after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.” As he went on to say:
I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. 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.