A question of sport

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The present English government has, as many will know, embarked upon a stern and unyielding programme of draconian cuts in public spending, citing economic neccessity as justification. While this may or may not be true, what is remarkable is the determination and single-mindedness with which they have pursued their programme and refused to be sidetracked or to have their ideals diluted or compromised by any consideration, humane or otherwise. Yet there is one notable exception to this consultative deafness. There is one solitary example of policy makers actually listening and responding to a grass-roots reaction to their proposals: I refer to the recently reinstated support for competitive sports in schools.

School sport has its place along with other similar activities and it may be shown to be beneficial in certain respects. However, there is much that is far more widely and profoundly beneficial to schools and to society as a whole that has been brutally cut without the possibility of compromise or reinstatement – take, for example the arts and humanities, higher education and welfare payments. One is driven to ask, therefore, what quality school sport has that has led to its exemption from emasculation. A writer in a national newspaper has suggested one possible reason – competition. In successive statements about its apparent change of heart, government spokesmen have repeatedly referred to competitive sports in schools as being exempt from the process.

As our columnist observes, competitive sport in schools has traditionally condoned and often enshrined the active or passive bullying of the less able in much the same way as the present government now seeks to bully the poorer and less advantaged members of our society. Small wonder that it has become apparent even to persons of such overwhelming insensitivity that for them to scrap support for competitive sporting activities would be as logical as a leading Nazi withdrawing his support for the Hitler Youth. The culture of the bully epitomised by the swagger of the Bullingdon Club exists as widely in competitive sports as in any other sector but is here more easily supported in such a way as to appear to be well-intentioned by being disguised as desirable achievement. On the contrary, it seeks to perpetuate a world view that prioritises one’s own perceived superiority over others as a target to which to aspire. There is no suggestion here that individual merit or achievement is of any worth or deserving of recognition: what counts is beating (down) and feeling justified in celebrating ones apparent superiority over someone who is less able.

This was a hateful and thuggish regime that was all too common in my schooldays: we can hardly be surprised that a hateful and thuggish regime now promotes it as the epitome of its ideology.