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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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I Hate Sport

Sport is a distraction. It is a powerful tool for depoliticizing a population, and a means of deterring public engagement with real issues.

It serves to convince people that the only power they have to effect social change is through the electoral system—which is dominated by elite interests anyway. Spectator sport provides another important avenue for hijacking people’s energies and time.

The evidence is there. Most sporting events could simply not exist were it not for the level of financial support that they receive from some of the planet’s most powerful institutions. Corporations and governments pour inestimable sums of money into supporting spectator sports, but their reasons extend well beyond publicity: they are investing in public distraction. Selling off public assets, driving wages down, gutting healthcare and education, shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor, and destroying the environment is all easier when the victims of these policies are concentrating on something else.

2007’s Rugby World Cup is a case in point. If we had the level of public engagement with real issues that we had in response to the All Black loss at the World Cup, our country would look entirely different. But when John Key announced the largest cuts to education funding in the history of New Zealand, or legislation that represented the worst attack on working people since the arrival of neoliberalism, our avenues for popular debate and discussion—overwhelmed after the Rugby World Cup—were mostly silent.

Sport is also laden with destructive values. Chauvinism is actively encouraged, while the loyalties associated with it are irrational. If you ask someone why they support the Crusaders, they will usually answer by telling you why the Crusaders are the best. This is not a reason to support the Crusaders, and is no closer to a rational explanation for loyalty than the argument that if one lives in Canterbury, one should support the Crusaders.

People rarely question loyalties associated with sport, and this type of chauvinism neatly translates into other areas of life. When dominant institutions go to work whipping their populations into the jingoistic frenzy that enables war, people are already accustomed to supporting causes for the sake of it, hating others for the sake of it, and having loyalties that they themselves do not even understand. Much of the groundwork is already laid culturally.

While there are some not entirely untenable reasons to enjoy sport, there are none to justify its consistent prioritisation over people. A public so deeply distracted by sport allows for, and in turn ensures, the continued prioritisation of games over human development and progress. The wrongness of this is ubiquitous: it is everywhere you look.

It’s in Delhi, where a quarter of people live in fetid slums; where a small number of residents were paid starvation wages to build the multi-million-dollar Commonwealth Games stadium, where we sent our multi-million-dollar athletes. It’s in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where the Brazilian military are shooting thieves and other desperate criminals from helicopters to increase security for the 2014 World Cup. It’s in New Zealand’s history, when we invited a sports team from the most openly racist country on earth to tour our sporting venues, then attacked the people courageous enough to protest against it.

It is in our media, where a full half of the nightly news is devoted to sport, as though half of what took place in the world that day was recreational. It is in the simple truisms, like the fact that boxers from the poorest sectors of society make the best fighters, and that we relish the notion that two men are beating each other senseless because the alternative is the gutter. And without a shadow of a doubt, it is in the fact that some of the biggest public investments our government will make will be in World Cup rugby stadiums, while one in five New Zealand children live in poverty.

In a society like ours, an attack on sport is tantamount to an attack on the national fabric; to say that you hate it is to invite contempt. For the reasons above, I for one, do not care.

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Comments (23)

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  1. Michael Oliver says:

    I don’t know where to begin with this utter abomination of a ‘feature’. I would have hoped that this year’s editorial team would have had the discretion to see this piece’s many, many flaws, and demanded its comical inaccuracies be fixed (or, better still, demand a complete re-write).

    “The evidence is there,” the piece says. And yet, not a single referenced point slithers above its irrational ooze. Nor is there a voice other than the author’s. I’m encouraged to take this at its word. I’m supposed to believe that, yes, there is a direct correlation between the All Blacks losing a world cup quarter-final in 2007, and “our” apparent indifference to wholesale budget cuts in 2009. I’m supposed to believe sport has anesthetized us to SUCH an extent, it’s a miracle we summon the strength to look out the window and see, my god in heaven, to see hell on earth. I can think of no starker example than football-mad Top 50 FIFA ranked Egypt, buncha do-nothing’s, and the way they did all that nothing about that revolution that never happened.

    Seriously, this is amateur hour.

  2. J.M. says:

    Can’t agree with you more Michael. This article had absolutely no evidence to the outrageous claims that it made. Was a good idea to allow a counter discourse in a sports filled issue but perhaps we could have been allowed a story that was more than a few ridiculous rousing sentiments that would have excited those in the world that see themselves as social rebels and anti-establishment.

    I know this article has offended a lot of people, and not those who like sport, but those who appreciate quality, original writing.

  3. Tony says:

    Oh I remember you! You’re every first or second year arts or lit student with half a bottle of Scrumpy down him! Oh well, you’ll look back on this in three years and shiver. Just you wait.

  4. Spot says:

    I don’t think this was a “feature” Michael – it was part of a “I Love Sport” vs “I Hate Sport” sort of a thing. I think that allows it to be a bit more dogmatic and amteur-hour, a bit less evidence-based. I think there is an interesting point to be made, I think it was made very poorly.

  5. J.M. says:

    Well Spot you did click on this article from the ‘Features’ section… check the link. You’re right that it didn’t need to be fact based but his point as you say has been made very poorly. I think the title promised so much, even though I am a sports fan, I looked forward to something that would challenge my views. But instead all we got was some semi-communist bullshit. He used valuable space up to put forward some personal political views. This was the sports issue. This article made the magazine. We only get one. Couldn’t we have had something better? That said, the other sports articles were very good. Shame this one let them down.

    Can we have more sport in the magazine please?

  6. Kim Wheatley says:

    How could you use the word ‘spectacle’ and not invoke debord! Didn’t you take MDIA 101?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Society_of_the_Spectacle

    Not to mention VUW’s own Tony Schirato. Man wrote a cracker of a book on sports culture:

    http://books.google.co.nz/books?hl=en&lr=&id=IyKWMeO0FZwC&oi=fnd&pg=PP8&dq=tony+schirato+sport&ots=o6_HO4BWFH&sig=j_k7vnxCnRHaSQiC4RLyMF7FhG0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    And J.M., if you’re after something to challenge your views on sport, how about the piece Nic Anderson and I wrote on masculinity? You’ll find it in this very issue!

  7. J.M. says:

    Well Kim those two pieces are very good… but although he used the word ‘spectacle’ this was not vital to why he hates sport which means that what you say is irrelevant . And as i said, other articles in this issue on sport were very good.

  8. Spalding says:

    Next time I need an example of how to use entirely anecdotal evidence to back up broad and otherwise unsupported generalisations in the making of an illogical and poorly structured argument, I shall read this ‘feature’.

    In my four years at Victoria University this may well be the worst thing I’ve read in Salient ever.

  9. Mark says:

    I believe it raises some interesting raises some interesting points none the less

  10. Lupus says:

    It’s worth noting that this article was half of a head-to-head. As Spot points out, there were two opinions on either side of the spectrum with a minimal amount of editorial input.

    Standards are different for a feature.

  11. Electrum Stardust says:

    “Most sporting events could simply not exist were it not for the level of financial support that they receive from some of the planet’s most powerful institutions. Corporations and governments […]”

    -Not just corporations and governments (“bread and circuses”) though. Organised crime and gambling syndicates awash with cash now also have a huge stake in influencing sporting results, threatening the very integrity of sporting performances. See, for example, this.

    Even in the absence of crime and match-fixing, the obscene amount of money some ‘stars’ now earn not only make many of the so-called ‘global franchises’ (as opposed to traditional community-owned clubs) financially unstable (e.g. Liverpool and Manchester United F.C.s- two favourites of ‘glory-hunters’ worldwide), it is actually “ruining the essence of sport”.

    Overall, this is a thought-provoking piece. Not least of which is the reminder to people to question the power of “dominant institutions” and “having loyalties that they themselves do not even understand”, even while they are cheering on their favourite teams.

  12. smackdown says:

    top 5 reasons why sports are dumb.

    1) da rugby world cup has cost heaps and will run a massive loss but lol look at john key on the catwalk ;)

    2) clear correlation in the number of reported domestic violence incidents and the all blacks losing.

    3) horrendous and out of date gender roles (female line official in the epl getting binned for being RIGHT; cheerleaders at rugger games; ring girls in boxing; womens beach volleyball)

    4) brewery sponsorship of sport, and da articulation of masculinity through participating/watching sport and drinking beer.

    5) my mixed badminton partner quit to have a baby grr insensitive much???

  13. Garret says:

    Lets park the intellectually masturbatory points about referencing… The man’s entitled to an opinion. I, for one, agree with it.

    NZers care about sport more than they care about politics… We’re having a referendum this year when under a third of the country fully understand our MMP works.

    Tying rugby into politics sure as hell does make it more interesting! But no one still seems to care…

    It’s not coincidental that there is a 6 week overlap from when the new Ministerial Limos are delivered and the old ones sold… That’s over the World Cup.

    We’ve also concluded that alcohol abuse is a huge social problem in NZ, but we’ll park that until after the World Cup -time for one last piss up.

    We’ll also ignore the Law Commissions recommendations surrounding alcohol promotion in sports! Anyone see another drunk Super14 star get locked up on the weekend?

  14. Michael Oliver says:

    Believe it or not, I agree completely, Garrett. Those are legitimate concerns that will, sadly, fall by the wayside because of Footybonanza 2011. It’s just a pity this article fails to mention a single one of them.

    And my apologies, I didn’t realise this was part of a head-to-head, and not a “feature” as I’ve come to know it. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have flown off the handle. Sorry, guys.

    Still think this is a prime example of lazy writing, but if it’s the author’s opinion, then by all means, let him slip in his own drool.

  15. Haimona Gray says:

    While I agree and appreciate Michael’s point, I think the biggest flaw of the article can be summed up thusly: What do you mean “In a society like ours”? ours?

    Selection bias is a relatively easy problem to get around, you just need to narrow the scope and understand that ‘your’ New Zealand may not be the only one in existence. It’s legitimate to speak from your own experience, but be clear that this is all you are doing.

    Now for questionable political discourse. Is it bad that some people care more about sports then politics? maybe, but with lines like:

    “A public so deeply distracted by sport allows for, and in turn ensures, the continued prioritisation of games over human development and progress. The wrongness of this is ubiquitous: it is everywhere you look.”

    It doesn’t seem that political apathy is the problem. Love of sports is clearly a bi-product of false consciousness. The problem is that other people are blind to the evils of capitalism – “like the fact that boxers from the poorest sectors of society make the best fighters, and that we relish the notion that two men are beating each other senseless because the alternative is the gutter” if this was the case there would be more Haitian boxers, but that’s not the point is it, it’s that these people are disenfranchised under our economic system.

    There’s an argument to be made for wrongs of capitalism, as there is an argument to made that we waste public funds on games, but the awkward shoehorning of these too is hackery of the highest degree.

    A rare miss for what has been an otherwise outstanding year of Salient.

  16. Sam says:

    In response to some of these criticisms, maybe my article was lazily written, the opinions contained within it are controversial, I should have supported them with some evidence. Please, it is worth remembering that it was only ever intended to be a casual opinion piece. @Michael Oliver, you seem to be of the idea that the opinions contained in the article are purely my own so I’ve sampled some of the scholarly literature below, in which the subject is discussed.

    In Sport and Modern Social Theorists, Richard Giulianotti outlines some of the major social theories regarding sport. Foucault advances the thesis that the rigid discipline central to organized sport ‘seeks to reshape the ways in which each individual, at some future point, will conduct him or her self in a space of regulated freedom’, thus making it a tool for society’s ruling classes.

    Marx would contend that ‘the development of the commodification of everyday life by capitalism, appropriating cultural pursuits, distracting the proletariat with sporting “circuses”, obstructing their revolutionary potential, turning athletes into robots and spectators into disciplined, passive consumers, and creating further opportunities for capitalist exploitation and ruling class dominance.’

    John Hargreaves in his book Sport, Power and Culture contends that ‘sport is regarded as an important aspect of class power relations, whereby cultural leadership replaces force as the major means of exercising control over subaltern and subordinate groups.’ He observes that sports have long ‘functioned to disproportionately attach the respectable elements among young working-class males to a variety of organisations, which aimed at integrating working-class people by engrossing their free time’.

    In her book Sport: A Prison of Measured Time, Jean-Marie Brohm observes that, after its ‘aristocratic origins in Britain, a relaxing pastime for the rich’, the right to sport was ‘readily conceded [to the working class] given the numerous benefits that it provided the ruling class in the form of a more disciplined and healthy working class (and potential soldiery) spending less time on the more politically inflammable pursuits of reading, discussion and self-organisation’.

    In an interview with Noam Chomsky recorded in Understanding Power, he argues that ‘it’s obvious that professional sports, and non-participation sports generally, play a huge role’ in depoliticizing people – ‘it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. In fact, I presume that’s part of the reason why spectator sports are supported to the degree they are by the dominant institutions.’

    Robert E. Rinehart shows ‘how the spatial organisation of the swimming pool and the coach constitute a panoptic space’ whereby ‘the coach’s gaze turns the swimmers into agents who exercise power on themselves’ and ‘panopticism is built into the coach-centered team (class) concept; it is reinforced in the hierarchical structure of the lane (lesson) assignments; and it is recollected in the lane timing squad, whose decision supercedes the experience of the individual swimmers’, thereby the coach, students, teacher are ‘cogs in the wheel of power’ producing ‘docile bodies’.

    The list of scholars that have awkwardly shoehorned the issues of capitalism and sport, in what can only be described as hackery of the highest degree, goes on. What I’ve mentioned above is the result of fifteen minutes research in the library, though I did, admittedly, slip in my drool once or twice.

  17. My Name says:

    lol sam oldman

  18. smackdown says:

    sam will you facebook event me when da revolution happens thnx in advance

    – smacky d

  19. smackdown says:

    Nobody read that

  20. Spalding says:

    Sam – none of those sources you’ve quoted actually show a direct causative link between sport and depoliticisation.

    They’re just more broad, unevidenced and anecdotal statements.

    Quite frankly, the Rinehart piece is intellectual masturbation of the highest order.

  21. Hugo says:

    shot sam bro fuck these twats, slipping in your drool is fucking fun! SLIP-N-SLIDE BIATCH!
    michael oliver is a gay

  22. Rex Hydro says:

    My favourite sport has historically been sodomy.

  23. curly girl says:

    Thanks Sam, your comments are getting me through the R.W.C

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