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August 13, 2012


Ralph Musgrave

Tony Blair also jumped on the bandwagon – as part of his “promoting Tony Blair’s return to politics” campaign. He got a good five minutes drivelling on about the Olympics on BBC1 during prime time a week or so ago. The market price for that publicity would be a good £100,000 I’d guess. Who did he bribe and how in order to get that exposure? Ideas anyone?


People talk about "winning life's race" as if sports are metaphor for life. But athletics and swimming are extremely unusual sports in that you just try to be the best. Sabotaging your opponent(s) is usually a vital part of the game (and a big part part of the fun). Same in business - see the way supermarkets open stores near their rivals.

I think my point is that competitiveness is not the same as the pursuit of excellence. Whether you can or should promote one rather than the other I don't know.

Luis Enrique

I think you're first answer was the right one. Politicians endorse popular thing.


I am always ready to lap up any criticism of the Coalition but I am not sure your argument is correct. May be sports men/ women earn more as a result of the positive health effects on body and mind? dynamic people inspire and encourage others who are less dynamic. That is a positive externality. It seems to me that it is simplistic to assume sports people are lacking in empathy or social values. Many professional athletes show the greatest respect for their opponents and fellow team mates. Have you noticed the hugging and kissing in footie at the top? They cannot get their hands off each other.

Compulsion is a mistake and you are correct that there are many ways to get fit. Not that the state seems effective at helping people to do so. Jumping on a temporary bandwagon is not a substitute for policy at the every day level. It is at the bottom you need to start with a range of physical health promoting activities for people of all ages. What about walking clubs at school? Many adults take this kind of exercise with friends in the UK. Also what about cooking lessons so people can eat food that does not kill them? Garbage in garbage out is a maxim that does not just apply to computing and the membership of Parliament.


If you actually read what Mr Cameron was saying about Indian dance, I think the implication is that it isn't very good exercise, and doesn't really get the heart rate up much. I have no idea how schools actually do things like Indian dance, but it's easy to imagine that it can turn into a soft option that doesn't involve much sweat or shortness of breath.

A nice feature of competitive sports are that by their nature they drive you to try a little harder - to be faster than the other guy, to keep running till the end of the match or whatever. So, at least for those who buy in to the competition, you get increased fitness automatically, with a built-in ratchet mechanism that steps up as the class improves.

Certainly you can experience the same benefits if you are driven to dance better, but it's much harder to measure "being a good dancer" and so easier for the class to just go through the motions.

So I think there's real value in competitive sport that you're ignoring. Of course, for competitive sport to work, there needs to be actual competition. A Michael Moore in a class full of Michael Phelpses isn't exactly going to be engaged, but stands a much better chance when faced with similarly-athletic kids to compete with.

I remember at school having an inter-class athletics competition. Something in the nature of a heptathlon, where you scored points for running so fast or jumping so far, and then the total score for each class was compared to determine the winner. Now, everybody's performance counts - it's just as important for your lard-arse to do better than their lard-arse as anyone else. From my position (which was firmly at the back of any kind of athletic contest) I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Indeed. Sport is clearly bad for the poor benighted masses. It's such a shame that they don't like things which are good for them. Like reading critical theory, or writing about French cinema. If only they could be more like us.


"A nice feature of competitive sports are that by their nature they drive you to try a little harder"

As one of the 'picked last' brigade, I have to contest this. I and my compatriots were not the least bit driven to perform better by a team sport that we didn't enjoy, didn't chose and team mates that at times actively resented our presence. We were more driven to have a chat on the side lines by such contempt (even snidely rooting for the other team, when the resentment from our own team mates became too obvious to bare).

Non-team sports, non-competitive sports and individual pursuits (what few of the latter there were) were far more enjoyable, compelling and inspired more activity in us than team sports every could. I was far more active in weight training/gym and swimming than I ever was in football, rugby, basketball and alike. I'm certain I'm not the only one with an experience like this. Competition is wonderful, I'm sure, for those who can compete at or near the top. It's dispiriting to those of us who can't or don't want to.

Why must people assume that competitive sport is the holy grail?! :-\


Given Team GB's excellent performance, why bother to invest more in school sports? Surely we're doing fine just now. After all, many Olympians were schooled during the allegedly "all shall have prizes" New Labour years

Phil Reames

I think sports teaches important life lessons and the biggest lesson it teaches in my opinion is how to fail, and that failure isn't permanent. You get up, learn from your failures, and try again.


Because sports are fun? Sure, not for everybody. Nothing's fun for everybody, but sports are a healthy, social pursuit that many tend to enjoy. Not everybody likes shop class or home economics, either, but they're useful to the people who do enjoy them and put in the effort required to get the most out of them.


"I and my compatriots were not the least bit driven to perform better by a team sport that we didn't enjoy, didn't chose and team mates that at times actively resented our presence."

Fair enough. I was also invariably at the back of the queue, and my experience differs. I might not have been the most athletic boy on the hockey field, but if I was of more use than an empty space, it was worth my being there. Yes, there were other boys who could run 100m in half the time I could - I could still compete against the other no-hopers.

But then, I suppose I didn't face much resentment from my athletic teammates. They were as well aware as I that I couldn't run very fast, couldn't kick a ball very far, and when called upon to do anything involving hitting a ball with some kind of stick would cause the ball to travel in an almost random direction. So I never found myself playing centre forward, but usually somewhere off to the side in midfield, where it's easier to carry someone who is pretty hopeless. And given that I was by no means the only boy lacking in either speed or coordination, there was usually reasonable competition to be had even for me.

I never found individual swimming so compelling. If I swam slowly, maybe I was letting myself down, but given that I didn't value myself by how fast I could swim, I didn't care. By contrast, in a team event not exerting my best effort, however pitiful, would be letting my mates down.

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A healthy mind in a healthy body ! Surely sports educate to discipline, competitivity which are important skills to acquire while being a child in order to be able to exploit these qualities while being and adult.

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