Playing the game by Trevor Plumbly


Chucking the javelin in Roman times

Due to bodily and financial shortcomings, I never really ‘did’ sport; it required robustness and uniforms, both of which were beyond me. To justify the inadequacy, I formed the theory that sport was bloody stupid and I reckon I’m finally being proved right. It might be unkind, but I believe the rot started with the Italians and it’s been festering ever since. Give a bloke a spear and stick him in the ring with a pissed-off lion was the early Roman idea of spectator sport. Up to that point it was a pretty harmless pursuit: blokes chucked javelins, wrestled each other and ran for miles; all pretty harmless stuff with no bloodshed involved, which worked OK until they started to reward winners. From that point on, it lost itself as a concept and became a socially accepted battlefield. These days the ‘Olympic Spirit’s’ long gone, buried by national breast-beating. If that’s a bit too cynical for you, think about the drug cheats and the millions Russia, China and the US spend playing one-upmanship, and lofty homilies like, ‘it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” start to sound pretty paternalistic...           

Manning up!

Pummeling the other guy’s head

It’s significant I think that far more folk get a buzz out of ‘contact sport’ than those actually engaged in the farce. Take boxing for a start: the prime objective is to land more punches than the other bloke and/or knock him senseless; the standard method of doing either is to repeatedly pummel the other guy’s stomach and head until the desired result is achieved. He can, of course, do the same, and if they both end the bout half scrambled but upright, it’s what’s known as ‘a good fight’. Some clown once described this lunacy as ‘the noble art’ but fortunately for clarity of thought, the silly sod’s since conked it.

At the risk of public damnation down here, I must mention rugby. This is what apologists call a contact sport: it’s supposed to ‘toughen you up’ and ‘make a man out of you’, but in my case it did neither. Rugby was the sporting backbone of English public schools, traditionally one of the most emotional and sexually repressive systems in the educational world. Aged 14, it only took one game to convince me I wasn’t Twickenham material; if I was going to roll around on the grass, why not pick Spot Simpson’s sister instead of some sweaty sod two stone heavier than me, trying to squeeze my jiggly bits for all the wrong reasons. I spent the entire game safely camped on the wing, my teammates didn’t trust me with the ball and, since I didn’t have it, I wasn’t of much interest to the opposition and finished the 80 minutes totally unscathed.

America’s Cup won by NZ in 2021

All at sea

Sailing used to be a logical pursuit as well as fishing and travel, but in the late 19th Century a group of wealthy Americans decided it would relieve their boredom if they turned it into a sport. Thus the America’s Cup was born and a hundred odd years later we’re still hoping for some sign of camaraderie. As an event, it seems anything but sporting, with almost as much time spent in arbitration as actually sailing. It’s sponsor-driven and as a result, elitist; forget seamanship, steady hands at the tiller and reading the wind, these guys are more like sea-bound test pilots. NZ recently defended the cup and, as is our wont, we all overflowed with ‘small country’ pride. Sadly, that hasn’t extended to our team: to keep the thing we stumped up $100 million and built a ‘cup village’, this time they want $200 million or they’ll take the thing to richer foreign shores. Who mentioned patriotic blackmail? Dammit this is sport! So what about losing the ‘spin-offs’? It’s hardly likely that Mr & Mrs Warbucks opting to anchor in Genoa and Cowes will damage the local economy. Let’s face it, these folk are stinking rich; Countdown and the local café aren’t going to top their ‘to-do’ list in NZ.    

Anyone for tennis?

Nick Kyrgios

It’s as close to sport as sport gets, demanding agility, anticipation and stamina. In the main it’s a fairly civilised affair with clearly defined standards of conduct. To be fair, most players accept those and behave accordingly. But predictably the limelight and big bucks always throw up a ‘brat pack’ of talented young players bent on airing their immaturity to the paying public. The Australian Nick Kyrgios is a prime example of squandering sporting talent; he’s blessed with natural ability yet incapable of developing the emotional discipline to become a true champion. But on court tantrums do provoke spectator reaction, media attention and publicity for WTA tournaments, so everyone wins, including the relatively unscathed Mr Kyrgios.

Not so fortunate is the young Japanese champion Naomi Osaka, who fell foul of the WTA’s administration by finding herself unable to cope with post-match press conferences: this was administrative bullying at its best.  Here’s a young woman expected to enter a dialogue with dozens of aggressive journalists with English as her second language, small wonder she felt stressed, perhaps she was naive enough to believe she was just there to play tennis? It beggars belief that a young woman can behave impeccably on court yet get sanctioned for refusing to play ‘show pony’ off it, while when Mr Kyrgios blows a fuse, a chair umpire is moved and allowed to step down to provide mid-game counselling. Let’s hear it folks for today’s winners, the administrators, sponsors and the media; as the man once said, ‘play up and play the game!’ Yeah, right. 

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