Dear sport

DEAR Sport,

You probably don’t remember me but I was the fat kid who tried and sucked at netball, soccer, hockey, squash, judo, long-distance running, no-distance running and, very briefly and traumatically, synchronised swimming.

I did my best to get to know you but the two of us weren’t compatible. I didn’t like your alpha dog-eat-dog competitivism or the way you called me “that girl in the blue cap who doesn’t know what a straight line is”. You didn’t like my body mass index or passion for 12-packs of profiteroles.

Hasta la vie, baby, as they say somewhere or other (languages weren’t my forte at school, either).

If I’d had my way, the two of us wouldn’t have had anything to do with each other ever again. But now you’re kicking up this almighty stink about the Olympic protests and telling everyone you and politics don’t mix, I just can’t stay shtum.

Your precious “how dare they!” response to the torch relay demos is even more annoying than your stretchy Lycra unitards (which, for the record, are never one-size-fits-all). You seem to think the world contains a sporting sphere and a political sphere and that with enough policing or enough tracksuited Chinese torch attendants, we could stop these two mighty balloons making like Venn diagrams and melding around the margins.

But conflict in the non-sports world is messy. It isn’t neatly divided into codes with clearly marked uniforms to make it clear who’s playing what at any given moment.

In real life, the equivalent of a nude volleyballer and a mountain unicycler may go head to head on a golf course using a combination of techniques from dodge ball, lawn darts and Finnish wife-carrying. And they’re unlikely to stop just because an umpire blows a whistle or honks some sort of industrial hooter.

You may not like this unruly chaos, Sport, but that’s just how things are. I don’t like the way boring replays of your weekend exploits take up half the weekend television news bulletins. And they don’t seem to be going anywhere, either.

Which brings me to my next point. You are hardly in a position to punish politically minded people with 40 push-ups for roaming from their respective realms. After all, your nasty, well-toned tentacles snake into all sorts of arenas that have nothing to do with running, jumping or chasing prolate spheroids around manicured paddocks.

You walk around popular culture like you own the place. Caddyshacks I and II are just two examples. All three Mighty Ducks films, all four Karate Kids and all 666 Rockys are just 673 more.

You indulge in the equivalent of tomcat marking in more highbrow cultural forms: in those saucy gymnasium scenes on BC-era Greek vases, in book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad and in everything Ernest Hemingway ever wrote about bullfighting, boxing and horseracing. Certainly no compunction about Venn diagramming there.

Your metaphors have also infiltrated language, with sports historians Robert Palmatier and Harold Ray identifying more than 1700 examples of your idioms that are used in non-sporting contexts.

If you don’t want politics contaminating your Olympics, therefore, you’d better make sure George W. Bush doesn’t make any more references to sprinting to the finish. And that US diplomat Christopher Hill stops describing negotiations with North Korean officials as being like: “Three yards, three yards, three yards. And then it’s always fourth and one, and you make a first down and do three more yards.” Oh, yes, those wacky North Koreans really are inscrutable.

To avoid accusations of being an A-league hypocrite, you’ll also have to stop snuggling up to politics when it suits your purposes. This means no more taxpayer-funded sports facilities, no more sports ministerial portfolios and no more international flex-offs such as the Olympics which, despite the harmonious group-hug spin, is invariably used to arc up nationalism, pump out propaganda and make crass global power plays.

In short, we’ll consider keeping politics to ourselves when you manage to quarantine yourself to hermetically sealed stadiums.

Until then it’s, ahem, game on.

Yours sincerely

Ms F. Boom Sticks

- originally published in The Australian on 01-05-2008.

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