Professional foul by compulsory Sproat

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The Independent Online
IT SHOULD have been predictable. It should have been seen a mile off. A Tory government in a nasty corner. Every misery they can inflict, they have tried to inflict. Nothing seems to have worked. They could have a go at bringing back national service. But that sounds rather expenny, and they are nothing if not short of the necessary. And so the Minister for Sport, Iain Sproat, proposes that all secondary school pupils in the country should be subjected to two hours of compulsory sport each week.

Compulsory sport] Compulsory Sproat] It stares one in the face. And it's not only the students who are going to suffer, either. It's all of their poor, benighted teachers, who will be obliged to make themselves proficient in five 'core sports' - football, cricket, rugby, hockey and netball - and might be offered the princely sum of pounds 500 a year for their invigilation of these 'extracurricular' activities. A princely sum for poncing around in your spare time in footerbags and with a whistle round your neck - if, but only if, you are the kind of cryptosexual body fascist who gets his kicks this way. But imagine a teacher who thought he had grown up, and that part of growing up had been getting away from compulsory sport? Now he finds himself sucked back into the Sproat miasma, forced into the body fascist falange.

Imagine for a moment the impulse that turns a person into a teacher in the first place: perhaps a feeling of wanting to master a beautiful, a precious area of knowledge and expertise. Say mathematics. You know you are a good mathematician, and you know this is an important thing to be.

So you decide to put your life into passing it on, not just to people who are brilliantly equipped to understand it, but also, by your special skills and effort, to people who won't ever be brilliant mathematicians but will be all the better able to face life because they have been given a part of that understanding. And a part of that intellectual, that pure ludic pleasure that mathematics affords.

Now contemplate, but again only for a moment, (for to contemplate such an object is as noxious as watching the sun during an eclipse), Compulsory Sproat. Yes, he says, you do well as a teacher of mathematics. Very commendable. But these girls have to get out on to the hockey field and learn the meaning of a tackle. These boys have to get their heads down in a scrum. And it is you who have to - not impart, not inspire, not coax out - you who have to enforce these skills.

Where is the connection between these ideas? Where is the area of overlap between the teacher, the minister, the sport? There is no logical, no organic connection that is not forced. Every compulsory sportsman is a fascist. They are not talking about sport when they talk of sport. They are talking about a social coercion of the body.

A sport is a pleasure. The words are synonymous. He took his pleasure. She took her sport. They sported together. The only other meanings of sport that I can think of are: the butt of a joke (as in, he's a good sport) and the chance genetic mutation of part of a plant (as in: this rose is a sport which appeared on that rose, and was then vegetatively propagated for the trade).

As to the first meaning, we're already the butt of a joke. We are (predominantly perceived as being) white and very bad at cricket. We should take this in good sport. There's nothing we can do about it. It's a slow-release, anti-colonial joke at our expense. The mirth will continue for a long time yet, and what the heck?

But good sports are not created as a result of compulsion. But it goes against the meaning of being a good sport to compel the quality in a person. It's like compulsory courage. A compelled courage is not courage. A man who is a good sport because he is forced into that position is not really a good sport at all: he is a hypocrite. A forgivable hypocrite, maybe, but a hypocrite none the less.

What kind of people seek gratification from the physical compulsion of others? What kind of people seek the widespread humiliation of the young? What makes them say that until the young are humiliated in this way they cannot properly take their place in society? That they cannot become proper adults without this initiation?

Well, criminal gangs are like that. To become an initiate you must first be intimidated and then become complicit. First they frighten you out of your wits, then they force you to perform the act which makes you guilty and therefore unable to leave the gang. In sporting terms this would be: first they force you out on to the field, then they force you to force others out on to the field.

The sense, too, that a wrong is being passed on ('It did me no harm, I don't see why they shouldn't suffer it') is fundamental to the culture of compulsory sport. One supposes that at the average female circumcision there is usually a gaggle of women standing around saying: 'It never did me any harm.' Women who force girls to play hockey have that kind of female-circumcision mentality.

So it is a culture of criminality, a culture of vindictiveness, a culture based on suffering as initiation: nuns on the hockey field, taking their sly aims; parents in sheepskin car-coats, screaming from the touchline; prefects in the changing room, contemplating the nude bodies of their next victims. A hideous culture. A hideous thing altogether, in fact.

It crops up now, this call for a general recrudescence, because of the humiliation inflicted by West Indian fast bowling, and because the Prime Minister was unwise enough to establish a close link between sport (cricket pre-eminently) and the kind of society he was interested in.

As far as I can recall, Mrs Thatcher never put her political reputation at the mercy of the vagaries of sport. It wasn't her world, was it? Sport was the thing her husband went off and played in order to get out of her way. In those days the Minister for Sport was the shortest member of the government - Colin Moynihan, otherwise known as the Miniature for Sport. And in those days, according to the Labour Party, 5,000 playing-fields were sold off by the schools, without anyone in government turning a hair.

The call for compulsory sport is, in part at least, the latest manifestation of vicious nostalgia. Let's buy back the playing-fields] How? Oh, with the money about to flow in from the national lottery. Buy them back by all means, if they still exist. Buy them back, though, for sport, not for coercion. Buy them back as places of voluntary association, not as drill-grounds.

Finally, a word about Mr Major, who declared yesterday: 'I am not a bad loser, but there are no prizes for coming second, none whatever.'

Prizes for coming second, Mr Major, are known technically as silver medals. But of course when Tories talk about sport, their minds are always on something else. Let's face it, They are compulsion fantasists. Let's face it, one way or another they want control over other people's bodies.

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