The interpretation of sports (1 of 2)

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Wed Jun 26 21:20:07 MDT 1996

This is a thread of great interest to myself.  I am a self confessed sports
fanatic.  I was up at four this morning screaming and shouting support for
the Germans.  My sons were up with me maybe because sleep would have been
impossible anyway.

I felt enormous satisfaction at the defeat of the "oul enemy".  It only
takes a few bars of "Rule Britannia" to get me going, mind you.  Now I know
someone out there is muttering, ""Deutschland uber alles" is Better?"

But I plead the fifth amendment here.

Now of course Sport as Zeynep has pointed out is of enormous interest to
Marxists and we have made real contribution to its analysis.

Some of the way we have looked at sport is "Sport as distraction"/ opium of
the masses etc.  This is basically Chomsky's position and he has been joined
by Robert M. and Jon F.

I suppose this is the dominant tendency on the Left and if you throw in
feminist critiques then we sports lovers have to plead guilty of a bad habit.

But there is more to  it than this.  The sport as distractions model is
simply too crude.  Comrade Jeff is much more subtle in his approach and he
happens to agree with me at the same time.  there is more to sport than
simply the sigh of the oppressed soul or the heart of the heartless world.
It is better seen as an arena of struggle.

You can look at sports stars and see them  in the Richard Dyer way as aboth
a reflector and  mediator of the values  of society.  It is instructive here
to follow Kevin C. and say compare Mohammed Ali to Michael  Jordan.  that
gives you a fair index I would argue of the decline of radical politics
among Afro- Americans.  Or one can dip back into the history of boxing  and
compare Jack Johnson with Joe Louis.  This would give you an index of the
ancient cycle of revolt and accommodation.

One can also look at the class basis of various sports and see sport as a
means of  uniting the classes.  the working class sports are I think more
inter4sting.  Here in Australia Rugby League is my favorite.  I have written
myself about how it is a site for discourses which appeal to the working
class.  You get the image of the worker as brave.  League can be quite
savage and there is a great deal of emphasis  on personal courage.  There is
also the discourse of the working class  suffering.  The physical endurance
of the players and the dangers they face mirror in many ways the experience
of workers in industry.   Sylvester Stallone has made a career out of
portraying this doscourse and bruce Willis seems to be following in his

Another discourse is the working class skilled.  This is what Jeff is
alluding to I think.  Working  class people admire displays  of skill, the
ability to  work on the world.  At present, for example,  Australian cricket
boasts one Shane Warne and he is one of the greatest spin bowlers the world
has ever seen.  His accomplishments are understood and admired by hundreds
of thousands.

There are of course also the gender and sexuality  dimensions.  Australia's
number one sport is actually net ball but as this is played primarily by
women it seldom figures in the construction of the national consciousness.
Similarly sports are  often the last hiding place of the machismo.  For
instance our State Rugby League coach here accused his players of playing
like "pansies" after they lost to New South Wales.

And no proper study of sport would be complete without an acknowledgement of
the changes brought about in sport by its increasing integration within the
framework of late capitalism.

But at present I would like to suggest that another way to look at sport can
be suggested if we take sport on its own terms.

To be contd...

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