It Is Ludicrous to Say Sport and Politics Should Never Mix. They Have No Choice

By McGRATH, Chris | The Independent (London, England), April 2, 2013 | Go to article overview
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It Is Ludicrous to Say Sport and Politics Should Never Mix. They Have No Choice


McGRATH, Chris, The Independent (London, England)


THE LAST WORD

Even their most savage desecration can ultimately renew our best values and aspirations. In Boston on Monday, the first instinct of many was actually to run towards the blast. From that moment countless miniature kindnesses - like a bank of pebbles, piled by the waves of a storm - gradually stemmed the highest tide of hatred.

And so we "engage" with our enemy: his craziness, his cowardice, ultimately draws its negation in compassion and courage. In blatantly targeting an event that celebrates human endurance, he sought to maximise our sense of violation and vulnerability. As such, all of us who love sport, in particular, should consider what we mean when we vow vigilance on behalf of its purity and ethics.

He chose as his victims these symbols of unadorned endeavour. But to describe a marathon runner as the epitome of sport's essential innocence is itself a social observation. For it is no good pretending that the turf between painted white lines provides some prelapsarian Eden.

As a rule, admittedly, this kind of outrage will be perpetrated beyond the garden perimeter. But we should never simply prop a ladder against the wall, peer at the pall of smoke and shake our heads. "Wow, those guys out there" we say. "They must be nuts. Anyway, on with the show"

If sport is to mean anything, it can have no walls. Because you can bet they will typically be built only to secure commercial gain for those who put on a spectacle in two dimensions, as a sanitised, modern equivalent of bread and circuses. And, before you know it, you end up staging a grand prix somewhere like Bahrain.

The professional crises of a sportsman occur in a trivial, contrived environment. But we can nonetheless recognise the character he shows as authentic - and even as legitimately inspiring, for the daily challenges of "real" life. So when the toxicity of the world beyond intrudes shockingly upon the sporting garden, we have to see that logic through.

Sport does not take place in a social vacuum. It will admit poisons of many different flavours and intensities. What happened in Boston was at the most terrifying limit of the spectrum. But over the past week we have also seen cricket revisit its corruption trauma, and a vile regression in English football fans.

If sport, on and off the field, serves as a microcosm of social challenges and behaviour, then it can only profess innocence by refusing guilt.

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