LEADING ARTICLE : Putting the boot into sport

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It should have been a victory for muscular values. Last Friday, Channel 4, long the redoubt of naked foreigners and naughty films about our national heroes, finally gave admission to more improving, outdoor impulses. From the New Year, the channel plans to broadcast nothing but sport on Wednesday nights. No swearing pop stars, no men in dresses, but sweat and playing fields, frosty breath and dedication, bonding, winning. Perhaps, for once, the Daily Mail's moral guardians will watch.

They might not be wise to. For also last week came news to chill a games master's heart. In New Zealand three years ago, as troublesome teenagers shoplifted and fought with their usual modern gusto, the minister for the police suggested sport as a healthier alternative. Scientists at the University of Otago examined his premise: questioning 800 teenagers, of both sexes, at the age of 15 and again at 18, noting any sporting or criminal activity in between. Last Thursday the scientists published their results. "Females with moderate or high levels of sporting activity, and males with high levels, were," they concluded, "significantly more likely to be delinquent at age 18..."

The report was less sure why, so from our own observations we shall hazard a few explanations. First, that boys in a rugby team may be a slightly, well, rough lot: not too many preferring a poetry reading to a pint and a fight. And then there are all those tempting sweet shops on the way to the playing fields. And the need for a good team to be a gang; a good athlete to be aggressive, fit and relentless - just the qualities for steaming the wallets from a London Underground carriage, and beating the police up the escalators. Maybe Channel 4 should stick to Eurotrash.

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