Not Liking Sport
Sport can be a universal icebreaker at social and work related gatherings. Having spent several years in the field of short term IT contracts, I’ve frequently found myself working with small groups of men (mainly), often from different parts of the UK or from around the world. One of the first subjects broached so people could get to know each other would usually be sport. “Did you see the (insert sporting event here)?” is a common place opening gambit. The next thing you know people are holding forth and a social dynamic is formed. This is a classic example of the sort of etiquette that helps society tick over. However there’s only one problem with this social tool. I don't care for sport. As a result I can be at a social disadvantage in certain scenarios.
Let me qualify my position. I have no specific hatred of sport or sporting endeavours. I totally "get" why other people do like them in all there various manifestations. I simply have no major interest in any of them and don't imbue them, their respective exponents or the wider culture with a lot of the virtues and merits that some people do. I recognise that sport can do a lot of good for both individuals and groups and that it can play a valid role within society. However I temper this outlook with the fact that sports are big business and that this will potentially bring a whole host of other not so beneficial issues to bear.
One of the questions I’ve pondered over the years is how have I arrived at being a non-sports person, when so many people do the opposite? Well I guess it has a lot to do with one’s personal upbringing. A love of sports usually starts in the home, which is something I’ve never had. As a child the TV was not on during Saturday afternoon, mainly because my Dad is an academic with no interest in sport. We never went to sporting events of supported any local teams or activities. Thus sports per se have always just been something that other people do and therefore never had a particular hold over me. With my own son I was scrupulously aware that a lack of exposure to sport may be a negative thing, so his Godfather filled the gap in this area, taking him to football matches and the like.
Other aspects of sporting culture have proven problematic for me over the years and have ensured that I have not altered my position. Many sports are vehicles for elitism, sexism, racism, and pretty much any other "ism" that's going. I am aware that not everyone involved with sport falls in to this category but it’s not just a fringe element either. I also struggle with the entire concept of vicariously living through others achievements and that terms such as “we” are frequently used when discussing a team’s achievements or failures. Fandom is also rife with armchair experts and folk wearing sports related clothing. Yet many are patently incapable of participating in the activities that they venerate. It should be noted that fandom is seldom based upon critical thinking and thus has its blind spots.
Despite my upbringing I was far from averse from participating in sporting activities at school. Quite the opposite was true and I use to try pretty much everything with an open mind. However my motivation was often very different to others. I participated in sporting activities for their own inherent fun and was not really interested in the prevailing culture of competitiveness. This changed when I was picked to be on the school football team (in the UK sense of the word) roundabout the age of eleven. Here is a condensed version of the incident.
PE Teacher: Why didn't you come to football practise on Saturday morning?
Me: I didn't want to miss Swap Shop (for non UK folk, insert some other popular Saturday morning TV show )
PE Teacher: It's not about what you want but what the school wants...
This resulted in the PE teacher taking the matter up with my Father, thinking he could prevail on his generational notions of obligation, team play and respecting authority. He didn’t count on my Dad being an intellectual snob who thought Physical Education was a shit Degree to have. As a result he got short thrift from my Father who pointed out what I did with my own time was my concern and none of his. I spent the next few years on this particular teacher’s shit list as a result. But then again PE teachers in the 1970s were notorious bastards.
Let me be very candid about one other thing that I believe is relevant to this discussion. It’s something that a lot of people won't admit to. I don't enjoy losing. Although I’m old enough now to hide it well in social situations it still really gets on my tits. Naturally this is a stumbling block in the competitive world of sports. I also don't care for some of the aspects of team dynamics that are associated with sport, such as the concept of team failure over individual failure. I remember as a child being castigated by another teacher because the team that I was on had lost a game. It annoyed me no end that we were blamed as a group when the fault lay with two very specific individuals. Sod team responsibilities and the bogus notion of “character building, whatever the fuck that is. I deal in logic and intellectual processes to determine where the weak link in a chain is.
So here I am now at the age of Fortysomething and there is an entire aspect of UK culture that passes me by. Don't get me wrong I can happily watch any major sporting event on TV, understand it and even discuss it for the sake of courtesy. I just don't give a shit about it. However as I mentioned earlier, I recognise that sport is a major ice breaker and therefore an invaluable social tool. But if you aren't in to it, then there’s a lot of TV programming, social events and general culture that simply passes you by. It doesn't happen so much now, especially in the circles I currently move in, but if you don't like sports you are often met with suspicion from certain quarters. Some will even consider it to be an indicator of your sexuality or politics for some reason.
Venerating an individual or a team’s dedication to excellence is laudable in principle. Human beings are competitive and naturally sports feed in to that. Sports also foster collaboration which is another important life skill. Yet like so many other cultural institutions there comes a tipping point where the positive and beneficial aspects that accompany them can quickly become something far less edifying. Then there is the entire issue of being part of a group that is not perceived as being part of the accepted social norm. Not liking sports, supporting a specific team and venerating sporting celebrities can put you in such a demographic. I have fortunately not suffered to any degree by not embracing this part of UK culture. However I could see it being a problem for others in certain situations. Difference can be a convenient tool of oppression.
So there you have a succinct breakdown of my relationship with sport, or non-relationship as it is in this case. It just remains for me to put one question to you, the reader. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you like me, not care for this part of day to day life? Does it cause you any issues? How do you deal with it? I’d be fascinated to know.