The Great Outdoors: Pack it in, sport]: Tired, sweaty? harnessed like a sado-masochist?

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WHENEVER I hear the word sport, I reach for my gun. Not a rifle, nor some awesome hand- made tool for killing animals and birds. This is not about skeet shooting nor pistol practice, nor that ridiculous Olympic sport which combines skiing and shooting guns.

I am talking about the weapon I need to deal with people who like sport. Team sport leads to group think; sporting clothes lead to shell suits; individual sport leads to dreary dinner parties and bad marriages: look at the Princess Royal, whose horse-riding led her into the arms of Mark. Look at the Prince of Wales and his polo.

Did you know Britain holds the world hang-gliding record? Do you care? Who are these people who like to drop into caves and climb mountains and leap out of aircraft? Every year there appear more variations on the ridiculous: skate- boarding on ice, wind-surfing on skis. At Bill Clinton's inaugural parade, a group of young men from Colorado exhibited precision deck-chair drill. Many such sports require participants to be harnessed like sado-masochists in a bondage parlour. This is a pastime? This is fun?

From time to time, people have tried to convince me that sport is fun, that it does not require fancy lessons or expertise, that it does not lead ineluctably to humiliation. Any dope can do it, they insist in that resistably gung-ho manner which sports nuts have. Sure, and any dope can go 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

I once knew a man who believed in inner skiing. Apparently, in those Zen years, having psyched yourself properly, all you had to do was fling yourself on to a pair of skis and down a mountain. What counted was your psychological fix. I wonder whether, after Eddie the Eagle, he tells the same story.

Sport makes people weird and boring. As hippies used to inspect their roaches, so sports people are obsessed with paraphernalia. And they like pain. Look at Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Off he goes to the South Pole and gets his foot infected; he said it was like having a nail through it. OK, it's his work, it's for charity. So he comes back - and what does he announce? Is he going to lie on the beach in St Lucia? He is not. He is going skiing.

Maybe I need a sports shrink. As a kid, I was a pretty decent skater. Then I went away to college in upstate New York where I became a victim of Vassar's gym department, which was then run by sinister women in white dresses. In the Sixties, a course at Vassar College led to an excellent BA degree. Most freshmen, however, were 17 and treated like schoolgirls. Gym was required; so were gym dresses. In the winter, Vassar is freezing. No matter. And when I failed to learn to serve a tennis ball, I was relegated to volley ball which, at the time, was what underwater basket-weaving was to craft.

Only two absolutes were required for graduation: passing the swimming and posture tests. No young woman, it seemed, could meet Vassar's standards without a sound mind in a sound body: a B-plus posture was required. All freshmen were photographed, back and side, naked from the waist up. In my year, a group of girls was invited to a Yale dinner where their place-mats incorporated their posture pictures, which had been purloined by some enterprising Yalie.

Some spectator sports, of course, are best seen in the movies. No skier ever looked like Robert Redford in Downhill Racer; no runner ever had a soundtrack as good as Chariots of Fire. In real life sport, though, only baseball is worth watching.

This spectator sport includes much eating and drinking. Nothing quite compares with a ball game on a balmy summer evening, accompanied by hot dogs, beer and peanuts. Thinking of baseball, a girl could get carried away.

I am also fond of ice skating, especially pairs. But, on the whole, I hate sport. Sport promotes nationalism. Team sports frequently turn normal men into macho beasts. They make men think they can run the world. 'You have to be a team player,' bellow corporate honchos who never made it out of Little League.

Finally, however, we come to sports clothes. Hardly anyone looks good in sports gear. Think of Bill Clinton, jogging, his hands flapping in little white mittens, his jogging pants sagging, his sweatshirt only barely concealing the bouncing, heaving bosom. Consider airports full of happy holidaymakers in tracksuits. Ponder the Michelin man as he makes his way down the slope; or that 6ft black rubber frog, who used to be your husband, as he emerges from the briny after almost inhuman efforts to look at a few fish through a snorkel.

One of the few sports in which men look quite tasty is cricket. They do not show their hairy knees; they do not wear hideous neon-pink logos on their shirts, or bicycle pants under their shorts. There is only one problem: to an outsider, the game is quite incomprehensible. But, then, maybe that's the point: it is perfect for a snooze in the sun.

(Photograph omitted)

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