Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Sport - I don't get it.

So South Africa is going berserk at the moment because 2010 has finally come, after years of hype. And what is it all about? Well, that in theory, thousands or millions of tourists will arrive, all eager to see the biggest sporting event in the world - the Fifa (TM) (R) (C) Soccer (TM) (R) (C) World Cup (TM) (R) (C), which is to be hosted in South Africa. The tourism part is good. The rest, I'm not so sure.

In fact, I am baffled. I can't see, for the life of me, what is so exciting about watching a bunch of guys chasing a leather ball around. It's about as much fun as throwing a stick or a ball for my dog. I throw it, he runs, he fetches it, he brings it back. I throw it again, etc., etc. The same applies to ball sports. Someone kicks it, it moves away from where it needs to be, someone runs after it, they kick it, they run after it, etc. Boring. At least in rugby they sometimes klap each other. (Afrikaans [v, n]: means hit, pronounced "clup"). That brings rugby up to the level where both my dogs are chasing the ball, and one of them gets annoyed and attacks the other. Hmm. Not as boring, but certainly stupid. What concerns me the most about this thing - sport - is how avidly people follow it. My life is so busy and full, I can't begin to imagine how anyone who is not retired can possibly find time to fit it in. In fact, I am so busy I can't even regularly keep writing a blog.

But that's not all. Not only does sport strike me as boring and stupid, but there's a much darker side to it. The Romans called it "Panem et Circenses" - Bread and Circuses. Basically, the idea is that if you want to placate the masses, and keep them from grumbling in discontent, and even worse - rioting, or rising up in rebellion against you - all you have to do is keep them amused - with "sport" - and give them free stuff - like RDP houses or water and electricity. This keeps them distracted enough to not notice that their lives suck. But this disturbs me even further: the tickets to this event are, rumour has it, going to be at least US$ 100 each. There is no way any of our enthusiastic, impoverished soccer supporters are going to be able to afford that. Maybe if they chip in to a stokvel (group savings account, pronounced, roughly, "stork-fell"), they might be able to buy one person per family a ticket, say. That is going to cause a riot in itself, I reckon. Because soccer, you see, like most other sports, is some sort of drug.

And that leads me to my final concern. I think that "supporting sports" is some form of mass hysteria, just like one sees in charismatic churches, and Nuremburg rallies. What is the difference? People say you "ought to support your team" or "show patriotism" or somesuch. But then most wealthier people in this country support various British teams, as a relic of our colonial past. They don't generally support the local, primarily non-British-descended team, viz., Bafana Bafana (literally "the boys, the boys", who these Anglophiles affectionately refer to as "Buffoona Buffoona" - because they always lose. I know several people with Manchester United scarves, but no-one with our indigenous regalia. So really, supporting sport is not about helping the team to win. Think about it. Most supporters sit at home, screaming at the TV and scaring the cat. The team on the field, many miles away, cannot hear or see the supporters at home. So how are you "supporting" the team? Well, you certainly ARE subjecting yourself to a whole bunch of advertising. And the advertisers sometimes "sponsor" the team, and give them free stuff, like large amounts of money. So actually, all you're really doing by "supporting" a team is helping them to get rich. Think about that next time you moan about how much Beckham earns. It's your fault. You're the putz who is giving him the money. It's entertainment tax, in effect. Screaming at a match, where you're in the stadium - sure, that probably cheers the players on. I do imagine that if no-one showed up to a match, they'd probably be depressed and lose the game. But while you're sitting at home? I don't think it makes the slightest difference to the players' morale.

I think, really, given the above considerations - especially about how some people in this country support foreign teams - that sport is really about personal identity, and not about "supporting" a team. To put it bluntly, it boils down to race and other forms of identity.

Furthermore, why indeed SHOULD you support any particular team? What have they done for you? Well, they must have done something, so what is it? I'll tell you. They give you a sense of meaningfulness in your otherwise bland and meaningless lives. Perhaps this is a harsh thing to say, but I think it is true. Think about it. Think about footie hooligans and how they go at each other. How is it not the same as nationalism or religious fervour? You see, I am opposed to all kinds of identity-based conflict, and I think that sport just fans the flames. Admittedly, it is preferable to see England go against Spain on a patch of lawn, than how they used to solve it by setting fire to Armadas of ships, but still, it's the same thing. Think about how sport supporters say "we won", instead of "the English team won", or somesuch. By supporting sport, supporters vicariously gain some self-esteem. This is why they say "we" won. Objectively, sitting and screaming at a TV set (and scaring the cat), miles away from the action, really doesn't make a difference to what happens on the field. So you're not, in any way, helping the team to win. That's not what it's about. It's about self-affirmation, and wanting to prove to yourself, unconsciously, that you're worth something, and that you're not just a couch potato, whose empty life can only be filled by some vicarious means.

Sorry if this hurts your feelings. But I really think this is the correct explanation for why people will declare that "they" won a match, when in reality, there was no physical causal link between their screaming in their lounge, and the outcome of the match. Moreover, does it really matter if which team wins or loses? Does it matter at all? Does it change world history? Well, perhaps it does. Perhaps it creates a sense of national pride, or group pride, of some kind. But does that sense of national pride or group pride bode well? Does it lead to good things? I don't think it does. I think it furthers the distinctions and discrimination that exists between us, and prevents, rather than promotes, cooperation and friendly relationships.

I'd prefer a world in which people didn't need mass hysteria to feel that their lives are meaningful, because mass hysteria is a major cause of violence. Whether the mass hysteria is charismatic church sermons, soccer matches, Hitler's rallies, or a rock concert, or whatever, it is the same thing: A way of excluding others. Apartheid. THEY are the enemy. THEY are the unbelievers. THEY are the opponents' supporters. THEY are the enemy.

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