A herectic look at sport

I live a society that worships sport and ‘sporting achievement’ almost as a religion. Sporting stars are some of the highest paid people in a society where these same sporting stars are regarded as ‘role models’ for youth.

The obsessions with sport worries me. But do not get me wrong, I watch the Olympics and World cup and a variety of sports.  I also believe there are many positive aspects to sport.  However, I am increasing concerned there are many negatives as well. I think society would benefit if we could take a long hard look and seek to reinforce the positives and see what steps can be taken to combat the negatives.

It is almost heresy to suggest that any aspect of our obsession with sport is a serious worry, and I feel that any look at the negatives would be taken by many as exactly that: heresy.

Writing this had me thinking about ‘what is sport’ and led to a separate post on that subject.

Here are some of my points of concern:

Should sport be the aspiration of society?

One of the highest aspirations of a young child is to become a professional sports person. Not a doctor, or a researcher who finds a cure for cancer, not a person who works to free the world of war or make scientific discoveries, but a sports person.

And this worries me.

Sport is inherently sexist.

Those aspirations of the young are quite biased towards boys.  The highest paid sport in most countries is football which not exactly an equal opportunity sport.  Even in sports such as tennis where women enjoy an almost equal profile, if there was a single competition open to both genders, it would be dominated by men.   This is simply not true in the same way with other fields of human endeavour.  Sport seems  almost specifically designed to highlight what men are best at.  We can have equal opportunity for women in law, science, entertainment, philosophy, politics or almost any other human endeavour.  But I suggest it is difficult to truly have equal opportunity for women in football. And with a society where such sports are positioned with such importance, this has an impact on gender roles in general.

This worries me.

Misguided elitism.

There is the often repeated story of how a school announces a program to support their most gifted students.  The plan is to have testing and those who exceed a certain score in tests will qualify for additional teaching.  These ‘elite’ students are to be given extra support by the school to achieve their very best.

That is so elitist and unfair to those who do not qualify! Favouring the ‘gifted’ is just wrong!  Should not the additional resources be allocated to those who show lowest skills? There is outrage!

However the rebellion was for nothing as the school principle explains – oh..did I not explain that i mean most gifted at SPORT? Everyone is happy because this is completely acceptable for sport.  Of course we must do whatever we can to produce elite sports people.  It would be so wrong to try and produce elite scientists or medical researchers or something academic however.

This worries me.

Sport sometimes can simply become a focus of ‘tribalism’.

Have you heard someone declare ‘we won on the weekend’, and already knowing or discovering ‘we’ does not actually include the person speaking, but rather a team they ‘support’.  The followers of that team effectively regard themselves as some type of tribe and a win by the team they follow is regarded as a tribal victory. The followers have all ‘won’.

This worries me.

Questionable sports can thrive.

From ‘greyhound racing’ where the sport is not really even between humans throuhg to boxing where competitors must seek to deliberately harm each other. The gladiators of ancient Rome represent a sporting folly that most of us agree should never be repeated.  But then I look at recent reality TV ‘games’ or competitions such as ‘survivor’ or “I am a celebrity get me out of here” or even the older ‘Big Brother’.  Some describe themselves as ‘games’ but generally share the format of a sporting contest where competitors compete in an elimination process to determine a winner.  As I understand the ‘get me out of here’ the contestants endure what for themselves is almost torture or forfeit declaring ‘get me out of here’.  The whole process unfortunately reminds me far too much of the excellent novel ‘The Hunger Games’.

The contests which people will enjoy effectively as a sport does worry me.

Sport can play a dangerous role in amusing the masses.

Yes this was the case with the ancient gladiators.  And I suggest it is also the case with some recent reality television.  I also marvel that governments, seeking to balance budgets, expend millions to develop national Olympic teams.  Certainly a lot of government money actually assists fitness, but also a lot of it is about entertainment and ‘national pride’ and even tribalism.  The USSR, North Korea have poured millions into sport. On the other hand would a democratic government that questioned where we are headed with sport remain in power?

The examples above worry me for the implications.

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