BRAIN, SET AND MATCH

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - BOOKS -

As well as en­joy­ing the odd flut­ter, the foot­baller Joey Bar­ton has long fan­cied him­self as some­thing of a sport­ing philoso­pher. With his pithy ep­i­thets on Twit­ter and his gar­ru­lous Newsnight pun­ditry, he has cast him­self as the would-be Sartre of the slid­ing tackle, the Voltaire of the vol­ley, the Her­a­cli­tus of the headed clear­ance. He is, he ap­pears anx­ious to let us know, a bit of a Kant.

Even in No Non­sense, how­ever, his un­apolo­get­i­cally wordy au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Bar­ton did not come up with a sen­tence like this: ‘From the phe­nomeno­log­i­cal per­spec­tive con­scious thought only in­ter­feres with im­me­di­ate re­ac­tions: “Just Do It”, the Nike slogan, per­fectly en­cap­su­lates the phe­nome­nol­o­gist’s mes­sage.’

But then, un­like the foot­balling wannabe, David Pap­ineau, the author of this ob­ser­va­tion, is a real philoso­pher. Or a right proper brain­box, as he might be termed in Bar­ton’s Burn­ley dress­ing room.

And here the Pro­fes­sor of the Phi­los­o­phy of Nat­u­ral Science at

King’s Col­lege Lon­don has come up with a col­lec­tion of es­says that pur­port to give us the an­swer to the ques­tion: what can sport teach us about phi­los­o­phy (and phi­los­o­phy about sport)? Though after read­ing it, the sports fan might wish to have a re­ply to a rather more press­ing query: how will I ever get those five hours back? And that is just the time re­quired to un­pick the first chap­ter.

Be­cause un­like some of Bar­ton’s ob­ser­va­tions, this is not a book that can be swiftly di­gested.

Dense, opaque and ar­cane, it re­quires a con­sid­er­able ex­pen­di­ture of brain cells to yomp through its more chal­leng­ing pas­sages.

Though it would be wrong to sug­gest there are not re­wards once such a com­mit­ment has been in­vested. Pap­ineau is ex­cel­lent on the is­sues of na­tion­hood and na­tion­al­ity in in­ter­na­tional sport. He writes with vigour on the col­li­sion be­tween sport and money. And he is very good on the sup­posed moral su­pe­ri­or­ity of the am­a­teur (there isn’t any, he sug­gests – the whole pre­cept was a myth de­signed to pre­serve the up­per ech­e­lons of sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion for the dilet­tante mid­dle classes).

I en­joyed, too, his chap­ter on Na­ture, Nur­ture And Sport­ing Fam­i­lies, which sug­gests that parental in­volve­ment is a less sig­nif­i­cant legacy to the next gen­er­a­tion in sports of wider so­cial reach. In other words, it helps a young crick­eter reach the top far more if the old man played the game than it might as­sist a wannabe foot­baller that his dad kicked a ball, sim­ply be­cause ac­cess to proper coach­ing and com­pe­ti­tion is less demo­crat­i­cally spread in cricket than in football.

All in­tel­li­gent, plau­si­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But – and in ev­ery philo­soph­i­cal work there is a but com­ing – Pap­ineau en­dan­gers his en­tire propo­si­tion by in­clud­ing within the book a foot­note that can lay claim to be­ing the sin­gle most pre­ten­tious anal­y­sis of sport ever com­mit­ted to print. In an ex­am­i­na­tion of the choices avail­able to a foot­baller, he scru­ti­nises the op­tions avail­able to Ar­se­nal’s Jack Wil­shere when de­cid­ing whether to pass to his col­league Olivier Giroud. The press­ing philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion in hand is this: will he put the ball to the French­man’s left or right? To re­solve this co­nun­drum the author has come up with an equa­tion of ex­pec­ta­tion.

‘Ex­pec­tUtil­ity (LWil­shire) = (4 x Pr(L)Giroud) + (0 x Pr(R)Giroud) = 4x Pr(L)Giroud).’

And so it goes on for six lines: mean­ing­less, af­fected, showy. In­deed, such is the com­i­cal scale of its idiocy it can­not be long be­fore it is quoted in a Joey Bar­ton tweet.

JIM WHITE SPORT/PHI­LOS­O­PHY Know­ing The Score David Pap­ineau Con­sta­ble £14.99 ★★★★★

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