Friday, January 24, 2014

The Social Atmosphere of Sport (Day 24)

Walk - 2 miles, 35 minutes

Today doesn’t count at all. It shall forever be filed under ‘ambulatory loafing’ in a dark neglected corner of the library of exercise and never revisited.

Instead I want to talk about the social atmosphere of sport. This  article by Ed Smith would seem, from the headline, to be about the difficulty for gay sportsmen coming out, but it is actually more about the constraints of an overly macho dressing room culture. An interesting passage is:
A few years ago, I appeared in a Radio 3 debate called “Sport v the Arts”. It was a slightly silly premise, of course. But I did learn one uncomfortable truth that day. The panellists speaking against sport felt personally affronted and excluded by its aggressive and narrowly male tone. I argued that this noisy constituency was far from reflective of the whole of sport. But perhaps I would feel very differently if I hadn’t belonged to the sporting community from a very early age.
The case against sport, in fact, comes easily enough to me, too. I quickly weary of macho posturing, dislike voyeuristic hero worship and despise tribal hatreds. The case for sport is actually far subtler and harder to pin down. I am not convinced that sport builds character, though clearly some lives are rescued by the discipline and structure that it provides. Much more often, however, it merely builds the character of people who were already inclined towards self- improvement. Put differently, sport is often the accidental vehicle for personal growth: “character-building” opportunities could have come through music, or theatre, or any other form of communal activity.
It made me think about all that is good about road running. It truly is open to everybody and there is no need for anyone to feel excluded by an "aggressive, narrowly male tone". Everybody can join in, to the degree that makes them comfortable. You can join a club, or not; you can race, or not; you can form an informal social group, or not. In other words you can be as social or as individual as you want. But if you do reach out and talk to other runners you mostly find them supportive. However there is a proviso: most road runners are not competitive in the traditional  way. They are not being defined by their victories over others but by the victories against themselves. The aim is to do better and gradually improve or reach a particular goal. It is, as Ed Smith said,  just one of a number of routes to self improvement.
There is a big difference between a participative sport and high level, gladiatorial ,contests where sport is a mass spectacle. They are so different it is almost confusing for them to share the same name. Participative sport is about sharing the experience of doing something, elite sport is about a small number of people, doing something exceptionally well, being supported, encouraged, and identified with. It has a different kind of value.
Yet, with often flickering but never extinguished belief, I continue to think that sport does more good than harm. As a form of joyous collective memory and experience, it is a central thread of human identity. Beneath the adversarial veneer, sport is one of the ties that bind us together.
This is a justification of sport as a shared theatre and says nothing about what goes on behind the curtain and the forces that form the performance. It leaves the macho dressing room untouched as we concentrate on the drama

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