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Sport is silly. But we are sillier

Date

Conal Hanna

Sport allows us to forget our everyday worries.

Sport allows us to forget our everyday worries. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Sport is silly.

Consider for a second the premise - grown men and women devoting not just their weekends but the entire prime of their lives to running, kicking or dribbling a piece of pigskin (or synthetic modern equivalent) up the other end of a field or court.

The real question is how we managed to maintain for so long the fantasy that our sport would remain pure. 

It's not meant as a criticism. I love sport. Always have. And being silly is the key to sport's appeal. It's an escapist drama that allows us to forget the more 'dull-but-worthy' elements of life such as work, mortgages and politics. As has been said before, of all the world's least important things, sport is the most important.

But even still, it's just a game. That's what we tell our kids. And that's how it was originally intended. If I told you there was $1 million riding on the result of your child's next hand of Uno (kids still play Uno, right?) you would look at me like I was a few balls short of an over. But every weekend we suppress our common sense to agonise over similarly meaningless matches like the world depends on it.

That world, by the way, is one in which the 2013 winners of the Australian Open tennis each earned what it would take your average Aussie nurse or teacher 30 years to accumulate. If you take a step back, it's hard not to think that this is somewhat ridiculous. The wages may reflect the respective difficulty of the achievement (becoming the best person in the world at tennis is obviously difficult) without giving any thought to the worthiness of doing it in the first place.

Like the absent-minded frog who boils without jumping out of the water, we have become desensitised to the overwhelming inflation of sportspeople's salaries over the past 50 years. We're no longer surprised to read about $1 million football players. We fork out increasing amounts of our hard-earned for a ticket - not to mention our taxes for stadiums. The games' popularity ensures they're awash with money. And it seems entirely reasonable for the players to earn the rewards their efforts reap.

But there's no greater corrupting influence in the world than money (it beats sex in the grand final). Of course having such vast sums riding on what's essentially a meaningless pursuit is going to result in dubious behaviour. In an age when the majority of players have no geographic or historic ties to their club, when loyalty has become a quaint exception rather than the norm, then it doesn't matter how much we spend on player counselling, testing and policing; this is a fight we cannot win. Not entirely. Because it's human nature to be fallible. To be tempted. Especially when the rewards for success are so great, and the actual crime - when you stop to think about it - is actually so meaningless.

The real question is how we managed to maintain for so long the fantasy that our sport would remain pure. There's a simple answer. The very premise of sport requires you to check your brain in at the door on the way into the stadium. The fact we've all bought into the delusion of sport's omnipotence is exactly why we all feel so cheated when our folly is revealed.

That's why all the codes are taking this so seriously. Sport requires our belief. If we can't trust that the results of the games are true, the dramas real, then sport becomes nothing more than World Wrestling Entertainment, alright for a bit of a giggle, but completely meaningless. And the vast business empires we've built around sport will collapse, ironically under the weight of the money they attracted.

But maybe that's not such a bad thing. My first job, straight out of uni, was as a sports reporter (/photographer/subeditor/editor - it was that small a paper) in regional Queensland. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes. But my time spent there reminded me what I loved about sport in the first place.

The standard of competition may have been far lower, but that made the stories all the sweeter. Seeing guys who spent all day sweating it out as farmers or butchers or teachers turn up to training with nothing to gain other than the comradeship and joy of competition itself - isn't that what sport was meant to be? Certainly the heartache they - and their supporters - felt after an agonising loss was more real than that of today's multi-millionaire professionals. And the characters were more genuine than the media-polished drones who have been doing nothing but play football since the age of 6.

Sport may be silly, but we are far sillier for getting to the point where we took it so seriously in the first place.

Conal Hanna is Editor of smh.com.au

87 comments

  • I so totally agree with this! But I still love watching the gladiatorial spectacle of State of Origin football.

    Commenter
    MS
    Date and time
    February 08, 2013, 12:12PM
    • more like Cave of Origin....

      Commenter
      alexd
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 12:34PM
    • Totally agree. Sport is fun if kept in persective. It can promote good health, camerarderie, and harmless competition.
      Unfortunately, it now promotes greed, obsessiveness, elitism, drug abuse, verbal and physical abuse, tribalism, racism, rampant and fanatical nationalism, and a lopsided view of morality and human value.
      Life shouldn't hang upon which end of a field a ball end up or who wins or by how much -- in the cold light of day.

      Commenter
      frank
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 1:24PM
    • excellent point on what the winners earned at the Aus Open. Why dont we tax people on their worth to society. Footy players, lawyers (except legal aid), investment bankers they all pay 80% in the dollar. Teachers, cops nurses pay zero. Then we might get the right people doing the right job

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 3:33PM
    • Remember the song by Tina Turner, What's Love Got to do With It? Re professional sport, What's Sport Got to do With It? It's all about Money, Money, Money.

      Commenter
      Chaffy Spleenwort
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 3:40PM
  • I stopped following "Corporate sponsored" sport back in the mid 80's

    Commenter
    grown up
    Date and time
    February 08, 2013, 12:16PM
    • Me too, I stopped watching AFL & NRL in the early nineties. I thought "the game of the people" turned into "the game of the money". So true I was. I'm grateful I have not wasted my valuable time & money in the past 20 years not following those sports.

      As well, no sportsperson is worth the money they get today. Not one.

      PS. What about the corruption in politics? Isn't that far worse? Why are punishments non-existent practically?

      Commenter
      Joe Jo
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 2:03PM
    • Price of a Wallaby Platinum (decent) ticket for next test? $295! What a joke!
      That means I won't ever bother going back to watch a rugby test (and I was a regular for 30 years.
      Excessive prices to pay spoilt Primma Donnas who often underperform anyway.......

      Commenter
      bill
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 2:14PM
  • Finally! What consequence does this ACC revalation carry for us as a society? Why are law enforcement resources being squandered on this stupidity?

    Commenter
    Sun
    Date and time
    February 08, 2013, 12:17PM
    • the ACC are concerned with organised crime. They look at things banned in Australia, anything banned is going to attract criminals who will try to import it and profit on it.

      You ban something, you create a black market, simple as that.

      that is the ACC's brief.

      Commenter
      Barney
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 3:03PM

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