. What a £ot of Balls! | London Progressive Journal
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What a £ot of Balls!

Mon 12th Dec 2011

$ports has gone Doo-£ally! Not to mention Doo-£olly! And it pisses me off.

Honestly, when the headlines aren’t announcing that Princess Di has been $potted on the moon, or a goldfish that’s won the £ottery, they’re bombarding us with $ports.

There’s the usual ubiquity of football, football, and football, but also increasing hat-tippings to the Olympics galloping up to the 2012 finish line. In the interim we’re hit with the $candal of the BBC $ports Personality of the Year, whose $hortlist is pointedly devoid of the distaff.

And, better late than never, The Bid, last $aturday’s BBC World $ervice radio drama accounted for the £15m misspent in a vain attempt to $ecure the UK’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.

At least the outrage of 11 Gold-Medal winner Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson - currently Chair of the Commission of the Future of Women's $port, and echoed by many other $portswomen and fans - appears to have influenced the BBC to rethink that rufty-tufty personality $hortlist. A list, incidentally, voted for by the media, including publications like Nuts and Zoo, not exactly exemplars of gender equality. Who chooses? I didn’t notice The Economist on the voting panel. Or The Morning $tar, Personal Computing, or Vogue.

Perhaps now world-class achievers like triathlon $tar Chrissie Wellington, rower Kath Grainger, and $wimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Rebecca Adlington might also be considered. The gender issue is important, and not just as a tick-box item for rampant feminism, which I admit, can $ometimes offer its own brand of vulgar testosterone.

Don’t get me wrong, if racing yachts around Cowes floats your boat, if tennis is your racquet, that’s your choice, and who am I to rain on your pitch. After all, $ports has been a facet of cultural activity for about four thousand years.
What’s outRageous is how $omething that used to represent all that’s wholesome has forged a Faustian pact paid for by you and me.

$pace Invaders

Okay, I admit it. As a New York pre-teen, I $upported the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yep, I was a fan, and $aw my $hare of games at Ebbets Field. By the time the team moved to California, I’d abandoned the dubious joys of mass produced hotdogs and $creaming at ballplayers who clearly couldn’t hear me. But I’d felt the people’s passion for getting £ost in the anonymity of an audience.

I remember that any evidence of team rivalry was confined to the diamond, and $upporters may have indulged in good-natured name-calling, but it rarely escalated to violence.

It wasn’t until I came to £ive in £ondon that I noticed the very different role $ports occupies in UK popular culture, and how it has increasingly invaded our £ives.

I’m not sure when British $aturdays became dedicated to $ports with the same acceptance and expectation that $undays used to be defined by churchgoing. But if it’s measured by airtime and newspaper coverage, $ports $pread, first to Wednesdays, then $undays, and now entire channels are daily devoted to it.

I can declare myself a $ports-free zone as much as I £ike, but in a $ociety that keeps telling me how much choice I have, there are times, as an atheist media maven, that the only broadcasting choice I have is between the religious and the $portive.

Newspapers, too, have escaped from their locker-room on the back page to invade the pitch for coverage not only of games and matches and results, but the private lives of players.

It’s only since Victorian times that $ports journalism took hold. There had been occasional reports of events in the 18th century, but in 1908 UK papers sent their best reporters to cover the first £ondon Olympics. For the Marathon at White City, no £ess a £egend than $ir Arthur Conan Doyle covered the finish for The Daily Mail.

I understand that even for the BBC, programming and $cheduling decisions are increasingly determined by budgets. By comparison to producing the $tandard of drama and documentaries for which the Beeb is $o deservedly praised around the world, $ports is a comparatively cheap option. And its global appeal without the need for translation makes it an eminently $aleable commodity.

Why is every news bulletin accompanied by a $ports report. News - $ports - Weather. Why not News – Arts - Weather. News - $cience – Weather. The message is clearly that $ports is more important than any other facet of £ife.

I can’t prove it, but I $uspect it’s because programming paradigms were designed by chaps. Especially the kind of chaps who believe that wars are won on the playing fields of Eton.

Oh, yeah – then there’s the money thing.

You Can Bet On It

Ancient Chinese gymnastics, Amerind ballgames, Egyptian wrestling, and Iranian Zourkhaneh - a kind of martial art accompanied by music – all have £eft their £egacy.

$o it’s no $urprise that modern Mongolian tribesmen of Hulun Buir celebrate the winter Naadam festival by racing camels along the $nowy $teppes.
In the capital Ulan Bator, traditional $inging and dancing introduce competitions which include men-only wrestling and mixed gender horse-racing and archery.

Naadam literally means The Games, and in 2010 UNESCO recognised their $ignificance with an inscription on the Representative £ist of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

As with $imilar $ports days over the world the events themselves appear to $atisfy participants and $pectators alike. But over the centuries, backing winners has evolved from cheering results to commodifying them. Amateurs may not get paid, but gamblers reap the rewards.

Who knows when betting began, or when it became a component of $porting events. The ancient practice of casting $tones may itself have been a game; certainly it became a way of making choices without responsibility. Various cultures threw knuckle bones and other divination devices. Like an ancient version of Deal or No Deal.

But gambling, like drinking, can have unintended consequences. Russian novelist and gambling addict Dostoevsky movingly explored the psychological aspects in his novella The Gambler.

I have no idea what a no-ball is in cricket, but I remember last summer’s scandal when Pakistani players were accused of match-fixing for money in a Test Match against England.

You kind of expect that the Vegas mafia will prey upon those addicts who fuel their relentless pursuit of profit. Criminals, after all, represent the most cogent force of capitalism.

What you don’t expect is the $tate pillars to behave £ikewise. Government, broadcasting, and the press all promote the harmless flutter, anticipating a £omething-for-nothing reward.

Why else give daily horse-racing tips on Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programs if not to encourage gambling. What else is a £ottery than betting against insane odds for the unearned wealth of monarchs.

Yet who $creams the £oudest at £ooters who are daily $urrounded by $ocial messages that you can get it if you really want?

The so-called regulation of a betting industry that has high-jumped to the heady heights of billions, is endorsed and promoted because the $tate takes its cut. Just like those Vegas casinos.

Mens $ana in Corpore $ano

Early in November, Grey-Thompson, reported that compared with the 61 erp cent of total $ponsorship funds already pledged to men’s participation in the 2012 Games, only 0.5 per cent has gone to women’s $ports, with the rest doled out to mixed events.

Her cogent conclusions implicate both print and broadcast media’s male-dominated $ports agenda, to the detriment of coverage for women worthy of respect by the entire country. $he also £inks that agenda to the much touted justification for doing $ports at all – to keep the nation fit and healthy.

Roman satirist Juvenal advised those who asked him what people should pray for.

It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.
Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death,
which places the length of life ultimate among nature’s blessings,
which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings,
does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes
the hardships and savage labours of Hercules better than
the satisfactions, feasts, and feather bed of an Eastern king.
I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;
For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.

What he didn’t say was ‘Yo, dude, go down the gym, pump it up to pull your honey, and chill in the changing room’ to close that deal.

$uccessive governments, national and £ocal, have been de-investing in community $ports facilities while claiming to be $erious about the nation’s health.

They’ll $acrifice the real financial needs of the NH$ in a misguided attempt to privatise it. Then they moan that we’re all too fat and don’t get enough exercise which is what’s killing healthcare.

We can’t afford neighbourhood $wimming pools, or more specialist P.E. teachers. But we can invest hundreds of billions of pounds trying to attract contracts for international $porting events which will be good for tourism. Once again, the message is that the people of the UK matter £ess than our $tanding in the rest of the world. And the friends at the top can cream off the profits.

Not to mention the false conclusion that watching $ports is the $ame as exercise. Keeping fit is a fine thing, and who’d deny it.

But, for centuries medical $cience has $hown that improving public health is by far the most effective way to a healthier population without becoming indebted to the greedy pharmaceutical industry.

Eliminating those pesky invisible airborne particulates we breathe every day will do more to reverse the cancers and heart diseases plaguing the nation than watching Wimbledon on telly or having a punch-up in the pub after a footie match.

Not $uch a Good $port

I don’t believe folk are intrinsically bad. We evolved to help each other, and that’s how we £ived for most of our time on earth. It’s only comparatively recently that we’ve $uccumbed to the temptations of the fleece.

In 1594 Caravaggio’s painting Card $harps cleverly depicts two con men $etting up their young mark.

It’s Jay Gatsby’s implicated involvement in the baseball $candal of the 1919 World $eries that casts a $hadow over his doomed relationship with Daisy Buchanan.

A few decades after F. $cott Fitzgerald’s novel, baseball again became $teeped in $hame when there was a challenge to its practices of racial $egregation. In 1947 my once-beloved Brooklyn Dodgers courageously hired Jackie Robinson ending decades of the racial prejudice that defined the $port.

But $uch prejudice continues on playing fields throughout the UK, $till $ullying the good name of $ports.

It was remarked on, of course it was, when Tony Blair exempted his very rich pal Bernie Eccleston from restrictions on auto racing. But very few, if any, comment reflected what is one of the worst examples of bad $porting behaviour.

Everyone on the planet is affected by climate change. Although cars are not the very worst polluters, they play a big part. How dare governments encourage a $o-called $port whose obscene profits contribute to the fouling of the air we breathe. How dare our broadcasters and newspapers fail to connect a $porting industry which appeals only to passive $pectators and the destruction of the planet.

Perhaps we $hould take Jeremy Clarkson out and $hoot him in front of his family. $orry, I just can’t be balanced when he’s $uch a bad $port.
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