Magazine article The Spectator

No Rough Stuff, Please, We're British

Magazine article The Spectator

No Rough Stuff, Please, We're British

Article excerpt

LET us start with the boy who jumped. It happened in a P.E. lesson; activity: high jump. The boy - he was of primary-school age - missed the landing-mat and injured his knee. So he sued the local authority.

It turned out that the boy was being disobedient and, attempting to show that he knew more than his (female) teacher, he refused to perform a scissors jump, tried his own technique and came to grief. The case, in the end, was thrown out. But it took two full days, involved the expense of expert witnesses, used up money that might have been better spent on proper education, and also cost money in legal aid -- automatic in a case involving a child.

Now this is all tremendously silly, but the fact is that it is not an isolated silliness. It is part of a culture of silliness.

It starts out as a suspicion and fear of sport and ends up as a suspicion and fear of life. It is the culture of wimpishness, the culture of the big girl's blouse and, at its heart, is the sin of refusing to take responsibility for - well, anything, really.

Sport is bigger than ever before: in terms of money, in terms of media coverage and in terms of public interest. This is true of rugby union and of cricket, but both are haemorrhaging participants at a desperate rate. Rugby has fallen out of favour at many public schools. This is the sport that was the bedrock of the Muscular Christianity tradition of empire - the system that turned out 'manly' types suitable for such tasks as administering an area the size of Wales at the age of 22. There are two reasons for this loss of favour: first, football is so ineffably fashionable - you don't see many Spice Girls marrying rugby players - and second, rugby is so frightfully rough.

`High-profile injuries in rugby haven't helped,' said Gary Moss, director of sport at Wellingborough. Wellingborough play football in the autumn term and rugby in the spring, but rugby is losing ground. Brighton College, it was reported this week, has introduced soccer, as have Marlborough and half a dozen other traditional rugby schools, and Dover College and City of London have abandoned the elliptical ball altogether.

Cricket outside public schools is a game in still steeper decline. The result of this can be seen clearly enough in the status of the national cricket team currently rated, according to the table drawn up by Wisden Cricketer's Almanac, as the worst side of all the Test-playing countries.

People don't play sport. It is becoming increasingly something you watch, rather than something you do. The only encouraging development for cricket is the participation of British-born Asians: nowadays any casual kid's game on the common is played entirely by children of Asian extraction.

Good luck to them. But the game was once played on every open space; every back-street lamp-post served its turn as a wicket; every school played cricket - however badly. No longer. There is something wrong with the game and it is that the cricket ball really is very hard indeed. Cricket is a frightening game; it was designed that way. You have to stand still while someone propels an extremely dangerous object at you. You are not supposed to run away. Where is the fun in that?

Well, if you don't know, I can't tell you. Sport in schools has been in decline because of a demonic mixture of political idiocies heavily seasoned with the culture of wimpishness. Left-wing ideologies said that sport, especially team sport, was antiequality, and must be suppressed in favour of communal yoghurt-making, or whatever.

Sport is indeed anti-equality; that is the reason why people like doing it. It is about losing as well as about winning. As the American gambler Nick the Greek once said, `The most exciting thing in life is winning. And the second most exciting thing is losing.'

The Right saw the problem quite differently. They saw playing fields as a capital asset, and promptly cashed them in. …

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