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March 24, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Violence in sport

“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 minus the shooting.”

Orson Wells

This could be true. Orson Wells was a pretty clever dude. Professional sport we watch on television every weekend does seem to have a certain bestial flavour. It’s an outlet for the inner man in all of us. A chance for us to beat our collective chests, roar in approval, or cry in disgust and irritation.

Part of this is due to our fascination with violence in sport. We all cringe when Ma’a Nonu performs a neck breaking head high tackle. We all know what he did was incredibly dangerous, but a little part of us celebrates the fact. We jovially refer to that time when Jona Lomu “fucked that dude up.” Wells was bang on the money: we all do take a certain sadistic pleasure out of watching violent sports. And some of the sports we watch are more violent than we realise.

There is a perception in New Zealand that soccer (more properly called football) is a namby pampy sport for girly boys (and real girls) who didn’t have the required testosterone levels and body weight to make it as a flanker.

This is just wrong. Vinnie Jones used to play soccer. Now he appears in British gangster films. He usually doesn’t need to act in these. He is by any definition a hard arse bastard. In 1992 he presented a TV show called Soccer’s Hard Men. This was not a thinly veiled reference to shenanigans in the locker room; it was a guide to all the dirty tricks of the game. The British Football Association subsequently fined Vinnie 20,000 pounds for bringing the game into disrepute. But that ain’t the ‘alf of it guv. Mr Jones ended several careers. He broke players’ legs, is infamous for grabbing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles, and achieved one of the fastest sending offs in history after side kicking an opposing player in the head seconds after the opening whistle – because at an earlier press conference he said he would. What a brutal fucker. But at least he keeps his promises.

Violence is not just limited to British football. Rugby features prominently. In 1974 the British Lions toured South Africa. This was the ‘great’ age of sporting jingoism. Because the plebs in both countries did not have more refined pleasures to pursue, they took their rugby very seriously. The Boks implemented a strategy of using their provincial side matches as boxing bouts, in an obvious attempt to ‘soften’ the Lions up for the all-important test matches. In response, the British developed strategy ‘99.’ If they felt that a provincial side was getting too physical, the poms would yell “99” and the entire British side would start fighting their opponents in a bid to get the game called off. What a spectacle.

How can we reconcile this with current attitudes towards domestic violence in New Zealand? Certain levels of physical contact are to be expected on the sports field. We expect a bit of argy bargy. On the other hand, how are good perceptions towards domestic violence being fostered when Jerry Collins walks away free from a judicial panel after he blatantly punched a downed player in the face?

New Zealand certainly has a domestic abuse problem, and reports from the Police and the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges have shown a correlation between sports losses and domestic incidents. It’s a tad unfair to blame all our woes on violent sports – but it’s an evidential factor that begs explanation. At the end of the day we do need to accept the fact that some of the sports we love to watch and participate in are inherently injurious. Just last week, a league match between North City and Wainuiomata had to be called off due to an in-game brawl that spilled over into the crowd, which ended up smashing the ref’s windshield in. The Dominion Post quoted one spectator as saying “He got belted. I was standing in the in-goal eating my Kentucky Fried Chicken and I had to put my drumstick down because I thought, ‘Shit, I’m missing out here’.”

To celebrate such barbarism is disgusting. Surely we have evolved past Hobbes’ state of nature. I’m not advocating the removal of competitive sport. Real skill is needed to play professional rugby or soccer, and not all players are hard arse Vinnie Jones-esque brutes.

But please, don’t watch sport for the sake of seeing bone crunching (and probably illegal) tackles. The combination of New Zealand’s love of sport, and the social acceptance of on-field violence is worrying (see the ad on page 59). Jerry Collins and hand bag swinging Tana are hailed as role models to youth. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. We don’t need to glorify violence in New Zealand, and for the love of humanity we don’t need to bring back the Biff.

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

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