The Leader-Post – Jul 29, 1948
Disaster in sports
I saw the other day a protest against the use of extravagant language in some of the accounts of sports.
Or, rather, what the protester objected to was the use of language that suggested that a team in difficulties in an international game was as tremendous a spectacle as a nation in peril. Thus the heading “England in a Jam” might refer either to serious difficulties in Berlin or to a cricket team’s gloomy prospects in a Test match.
“Disaster,” “collapse” and “tragedy” are all words that have been used again and again to describe the fact that a few batsmen in a friendly game have been got rid of by a few bowlers more easily than was anticipated.
Those who object to the use of such words in such circumstances are obviously no cricket enthusiasts. What other word but “tragedy” could a man who cared for the game use if Compton were run out through a misunderstanding with Edrich or vice versa?
The English language contains thousands upon thousands of words, but I doubt whether it contains a second word that describes more aptly what such a situation represents to a man with the fever of cricket in his blood.
After all, it is a plain fact that at least half the population of England has its emotions roused far more profoundly by the result of a Test match than by the death of Othello or even—though the cinema may alter this—by the death of Hamlet.
The truth is, games would be pretty dull affairs if we did not take them seriously. If you care for a game as you ought to care for a game, you will have known many moments at which nothing else in the world seemed to matter—inflation or Communism or the future of Spain or of civilization itself.
I admit that in some international games the spectators allow themselves to be carried away by their emotions to a reprehensible degree, as in one of the South American republics — I forgot which — where at international football matches, there is a rule against taking revolvers into the ground and where there is a wire netting between the spectators and the players to prevent the throwing of the less lethal missiles.
The truth is, just as in the theatre we become completely absorbed and yet know what we are seeing is only a play so at a football of cricket match we should be able to feel as if this were the only thing on earth that mattered and at the same time to know at the back of our minds that what we are seeing is “only a game.”
The dual attitude might be expected to weaken our enjoyment. On the contrary, it increases it and enables the spectator at a game, for example, to relish a good play even on the part of a member of the enemy side.
Without this dual attitude, indeed, it is impossible fully to enjoy international sport. Optimists used to think that sport would of itself help to bring the nations close together. But, unless international sport is both played and watched by people who are capable of being engrossed and enraptured by the rigor of the game without forgetting the simple and undeniable fact that it is only a game, it is more likely to increase the hostilities than the friendships of nations.
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