Some people are not missing sport at all
Anyone reading these pages may well be suffering withdrawal symptoms of not being able to see live sport, or even read about it, because there simply isn’t any. Sports pages around the world are full of postponements, cancellations and other tales of woe, countered by some rather optimistic forecasts of when things might get back to normal.
The answer to that is regrettably “not soon.”
No sport has emerged unscathed. Even in rugby-mad New Zealand, all forms of the game have been suspended indefinitely which just highlights the seriousness of the situation.
It reminds me of an encounter a few years back when I ran into a New Zealand acquaintance on Sukhumvit Road and asked him what he thought of an important All Blacks game played a few days before.
His response was not what I was expecting.
“Oh, who did they play?’’ he asked. I was flabbergasted coming across a Kiwi who didn’t follow rugby. I didn’t think such a person existed.
It was a reminder that there are plenty of people on this planet who do not follow sport.
In fact some loathe it just as much as I loathe techno-pop music.
So during the current crisis, these people will not be suffering in quite the same way as sport fans.
One suspects the late, portly British actor Robert Morley was less than enthusiastic about sport. He once complained: “The ball is man’s most disastrous invention.”
Back in my schooldays, there were always a few kids who would start shaking with fright at the very thought of taking part in a sport session.
Sometimes they feigned illness, but usually they were forced to play, something that would not happen these days.
I remember one such fellow reluctantly playing in a softball game, when the batter whacked the ball and hit the reluctant fielder in the nether regions.
It looked really painful and the poor fellow slumped to the floor, yelping like a wounded puppy.
The response of all the other kids — including the game’s master — was to collapse in laughter. Sport can be cruel
Someone who was definitely not a sport fan was novelist George Orwell who commented: “Sport is an unfailing cause of ill will.”
The author expanded on this in his book The Sporting Spirit.
He observed: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words, it is war without the shooting.”
And he hadn’t even seen NFL. The allusion to war on the playing fields is a recurring theme to those who feel strongly about the perceived bad influence of sport.
Novelist Aldous Huxley had similar thoughts: “Like every instrument man has invented, sport can be used for good and evil purposes. Used badly it can increase personal vanity and group vanity, greedy desire for victory and even hatred for rivals.”
Standing up for sport, however, was American judge Earl Warren.
Talking about newspapers, he commented: “I always turn to the sports pages first. The sports pages report people’s accomplishments, the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”
George Bernard Shaw saw sport as playing a useful role in stemming violence in society: “The only way of preventing civilised men from beating and kicking their wives is to organise games in which they can kick and beat balls.”
Certainly football did provide an important release from stress.
On Saturday afternoons in Britain, men headed for football stadiums where they were allowed to let off steam and sometimes behave like idiots, shouting abuse at players, referees and opposing fans.
Psychologists argued that it was much better than staying at home and taking it out on the wife.
Of course one’s attitude to sport may vary depending on the degree of participation.
Bob Hope had a perceptive comment to make in this respect: “If you watch a game, it’s fun. If you play, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf.”
Golf is a sport that critics like taking a pot-shot at ever since Mark Twain called it “a good walk spoiled”.
Winston Churchill was not a fan, commenting “golf is an ineffectual attempt to direct an uncontrollable sphere into an inaccessible hole with instruments ill-adapted to the purpose.”
Australian author Peter Andrews was also not impressed. “There is one thing dumber in the world than playing golf. That is watching someone else play golf,” he said.
Perhaps we take sport too seriously. Grown men and women chasing around after various-shaped balls can look pretty stupid after all. Yet some football fans are depressed all week if their teams lose.
Playwright Neil Simon summed it up best: “Sport is the only entertainment where no matter how many times you go back, you never know the ending”.
And that’s the way we like it, pure theatre without any script.
Let’s hope we get to see some sport soon.