I suppose I’m a writer with an abiding interest in anthropological and poetic thinking about sport, rather than a professional sports writer, like you two (Miriam Sved and Jake Dean). Sport is the modern non-secular religion, so anyone with an interest in understanding the present moment and its longer history ends up confronting questions to do with sport. We don’t build churches or cathedrals anymore, we build stadia, this more or less began with the neo-Olympic movement that had quasi-religious imperatives at its inception.
Sport moves people, both emotionally and physically, in the sense that eighty-odd thousand people transport themselves of a weekend to go and watch two teams of athletes do battle on a field, in a stadium. You look at the papers: real estate, the economy, sport. That’s the society we live in. And I suppose what interests me, what gives me a sense of autonomy and agency is the thought that the particular form sport, along with other practices, has taken is far from inevitable, far from homogenous, and far from settled as to what forms it might take in the future.
Here are some of the sketch points the discussion might trace over:
– Relationship of sport to rituals and games; definitions, distinctions, how they relate to the present context.
– Sport and gambling: the alliance of betting companies, computer mediated communication and sports, how this is changing the way games are played.
– Sport, drugs and results fetishism. Does the emphasis on producing winners or losers have an adverse effect on the way sport is thought about? What are some alternate models?
– Sport, entertainment and work: to what extent is sport a matter of work or entertainment (to understand the dynamics between these fields)?
– The following quote from the German philosopher Peter Sloterdjik is something I return to often. It’s pretty dense and perhaps cynical but makes sense of the lay of the land in a thought-provoking way. He suggests that modern sport is at a crossroads (first alternative desirable, the second, not so much):
“Either the athlete continues to act as a witness to the human ability to take forward steps at the threshold of the impossible–with unforeseeable transference effects on all those who involve themselves by appealing to the spectacle–or they continue along the path of self-destruction that is already marked out, where moronic fans shower co-moronic stars with admiration from the very bottom, the former drunk and the latter doped.” (2013, 417-8)
– This is another quote from a philosopher that gets me thinking:
“We got by for a long time with an energetic conception of motion, where there is a point of contact, or we are the source of movement. Running, putting the shot, and so on: effort, resistance, with a starting point, a lever. But nowadays we see movement defined less and less in relation to a point of leverage. All the new sports–surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding–take the form of an entering into an existing wave. There’s no longer an origin as starting point, but a sort of putting into orbit. The key thing is how to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to ‘get into something’ instead of being the origin of effort.” (Deleuze, Gilles, 1995: 119)
I find it interesting to think about how the mode Deleuze describes might be transferable to sports that aren’t explicitly about getting “taken up in the motion of a big wave”, but which nonetheless might still be available to this kind of engagement: bowling a cricket ball as dancing or a surfing.
And one more: “Music and sport have always been the most perfect ‘isolators’, the most fruitful aids to reflection and vision, as well as powerful stimuli, like ‘massage of the will’, encouraging me to persevere. In fact, after a period of difficulties and perils, all immediate worries were suddenly removed” That’s Pierre de Coubertin, the key force behind the initiation of the modern Olympic movement. Maybe his penchant for male athleticism led him to forget dancing here as well.