Sport and the state

Apparently Scotland did wonderfully well at the Commonwealth Games. Sixth in the medals table does indeed sound pretty impressive. But on the other hand, it probably just emphasises the inherent pointlessness of the Commonwealth Games.

Jonathan Calder has a good post about the fact that this success has led to politicians taking the credit. His Toneness was very modest by pointing out the hard work his colleagues in the Scottish Executive have done:

I think people worked hard before the games as well and I know that Jack McConnell, (Sports Minister) Patricia Ferguson, the Scottish Institute of Sport – they’ve all been putting their shoulder to the wheel and it’s paid off.

I doubt, though, that Jack McConnell had much influence on any of Scotland’s eleven gold medal winners. Indeed. I’ve never really understood why these individual successes should be celebrated as national successes (never mind state successes!). If I were an athlete who had won a major sporting event, I would probably be a bit upset if the entire nation tried to free-ride on my personal awesomeness. I swam backwards through my own arsehole in record-breaking time, not the neds kicking about outside Spar. Sitting on my bum did not cause Sheena Sharp to score a gold in the shooting. As Jonathan pointed out:

The people to be praised are the medalists themselves, their coaches and (I suspect most of all) the parents who gave up their spare time to ferry them from event to event when they were younger.

I have never understood why so much public money is spent on sport. I’ve just about thought of a vaguely justifiable reason for spending public money on most things, even the arts. But sport, I just cannot understand. Maybe they’ll build a nice new stadium every now and again, but it will always be in a place that doesn’t really need one.

And why spend so much time, money and effort into getting homegrown athletes to break some record which will only be broken by somebody else from another country a few years down the line anyway? I can’t think of any reason how this can add to the quality of anybody’s life, apart from people who manage sport organisations.

There were two subjects that I couldn’t understand at school. One of them was drama, which is teaching kids to lie in a convoluted way. Well, you can see how politicians’ influence comes into that one. But nothing could top PE. I absolutely detested it. It is a bit like slavery really.

People joke that you have to “jump through hoops” if something is made unnecessarily difficult. But in PE you are made to literally jump through hoops. And swim through hoops. And swim to the bottom of the pool to collect a brick. And play rounders. And dodgeball. Does anybody do any of this shit after they’ve left school? No, not even at the Commonwealth Games! As soon as I left school the doctor told me that the best exercise I could take was to go on a walk! So thanks, national curriculum, for keeping me fit!

As Iain said in the comments at Liberal England, “if the government claims credit for sporting achievements, should they not share the blame too?” I’ve not seen Englandandwales’ sports minister apologising for any of England’s embarassments. Failing to pass the baton is embarassing enough on school sports day, never mind at a major international event.

Formula 1 coverage used to be fairly light on the patriotism. But that was back when Britain’s only decent driver was a Scot. Now ITV spend their whole time prattling on about Jenson Button. “Meeeeeeeeeeeeh, when’s Jenson Button going to get his first win?” They seem to spend about half an hour every race talking him up and how he’s surely bound to win some time soon. His Englishness has blinded everybody to the fact that Button is nothing more than an enormous, smug prick and the sort of person who will sign a contract then do everything in his power to wriggle out of it — twice.


  1. Speaking of Jenson Button, the Press are indeed always saying that his first Grand Prix win will come, but it still hasn’t. Some may say it is because he simply does not have the right equipment; others may say he’s just plain unfortunate. But if he is still winless at the end of 2006, surely the Press will have to start being mean to him and saying, “Uhhh, Jenson Button will never win a Grand Prix”?
    I agree that the Commonwealth Games are pointless these days. Australia showed in Melbourne that they are the best Commonwealth nation by a very long way. England, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the other nations involved were merely playing catch-up and hoping for the odd medal here and there. Then again, everything could change in the four years before the next Games in Vancouver…

  2. Well, the Press can’t say now that Jenson Button will never win a Grand Prix following his heroics in Hungary.