21 November 2009

Bread and Circuses

It cannot have come as a surprise to many people that it is money, not a sense of fair play, that drives the activities of the sports corporations like Fifa and the IOC. The amateur sportsman was always something of an imposter, since only those wealthy enough to have leisure and equipment to train were likely to make it, and so few would call for his return.

However, in spite of the advent of the Olympic mascot and the plastering of TV coverage and the stadia themselves with brand advertising, we seem to have continued to nurse some hope that sport was an arena where honest competition and hard work determined the outcome. This illusion was safely laid to rest on Wednesday when Henry handled the ball in the Irish area. Like so many areas of life, in sport too these days it is only about the money, and with such a large population of potential consumers in France, and so small a number in Ireland, the outcome was always predictable.

The French, it seems, are embarrassed about Henry's behaviour. He has followed Zidane along the path from national hero to national disgrace. In an era when our politicians and our corporations alike display their corruption on a daily basis, we need to continue to believe in our sportsmen's commitment to fair play.

It was Juvenal who coined the phrase 'bread and circuses' to describe the way the Roman empire handed out titbits and entertainments to distract the masses from the fundamental injustice of imperial life. However unfair life as a whole might be, the contests in the arena were to be fair fights - and there was always a chance of escape if you fought bravely enough. The corporate empire displays a similar level of unfairness - with the outcome for most of the world's people determined before they are born.

For so many modern-day drones, football is the circus of choice - the only area of life where they dare to let their emotions flow freely, when relationships are so fraught and work so oppressive. The health of the working population requires that, in spite of the evidence of match-fixing in so many sports, the delusion that sport is still about fair play can be maintained.

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