May 28, 2014 by lucieromarin
Creating a new life late in life has, in my instance, compelled me to watch hours and hours of sport. Left to myself, I would never have watched any sport, but it’s part of my training, so in the past few weeks I’ve watched six hours of cycling, six hours of golf, eight or nine hours of different kinds of rugby, two hours of soccer, three or four hours of WWE wrestling, one hour of car racing (yawn) and two hours of darts. To make sense of it all meant not only learning the argot particular to each sport, but observing what the spectators got out of it, too. I know why I was watching the golf. I had to. But what brought that fan to the golf course that day? Why did those people wait for five hours to wave flags at the cyclists as they whizzed past? And so on.
I’ve drawn some conclusions. There are two absolute requirements for sport to be watched at all, and two additional requirements for that sport to attract tens of thousands of roaring fans.
First, it must be Fun to Do. There are all kinds of astonishing things the human body can do, but they’re not all fun. Tightrope-walking from one tall building to another is pretty amazing, but it’s also terrifying and dangerous, so it isn’t a popular competition sport.
Second, it must be splendid to watch. The greater the splendour, the greater the number of fans. There are fans of competition darts because a steady hand and a good eye are splendid to watch. But all the Roman civilisation and gender-difference-denying in the world cannot stop the human eye from finding twelve or thirteen athletic male physiques running about more splendid to watch than a steady hand, so football, rugby, and soccer have more fans than darts.
And the additional requirements? The first is that the sport must be possessed of some kind of strategy which can be talked about ad infinitum by other men, not only during the game, but before and after it, too. I think this is a boy-thing. Women can enjoy watching male sports, but I’m pretty sure they’re not watching the sport shows which consist entirely of four men perched around a table discussing potential players in the same way that men in pubs in the novels of George Eliot talked about whether or not the Dissenters would ruin everything for the Established Church. That is, men love to talk Big Strategy, irrespective of whether or not there is anything they can do to execute that strategy. (For the same reason, trad men will talk for hours about who the bishops should appoint and What the Pope Should Do when nothing they say is going to make the slightest difference to what actually happens. Women, by way of contrast, when they’re left to themselves and are not consciously trying to emulate men, tend to talk Small Strategy, by which I don’t mean unimportant, just immediate, practical and achieveable. They won’t talk about who should play for the Under 19s or who should be appointed bishop, but they will talk about how to make Father give us that thing before next Sunday, or how to stop my cousin wear a tuxedo to the wedding, and so on.)
I digress. So, to be really popular, a sport must be Fun to Do, Splendid to Watch, and full of strategy, but the last is the most important point of all. In order to fill a stadium with flags and cheers and painted faces, the sport must be a team sport representative of a real place. Tennis is undeniably splendid to watch, and full of tension and drama, but its players only really ever represent themselves. Spectators can cheer, and gasp, and boo at the tennis, but they never cry. Where male team spots are concerned, they cry. Why? Because there’s so much more at stake. Where a team represents a place, whether that’s a suburb of Melbourne or a country at the World Cup, the spectator invests in his own sense of local pride.
(I’ve noticed, myself, that watching grand finals is agonising. I just feel so gutted for the losers…this, even when I’m not actually sure which kind of rugby they’re playing. It’s just so heartrending!)
Sport, is, in fact, proof that in a postlapsarian world, the idea of some natural brotherhood of man is a complete fiction. Left to himself, man’s instinct is to cluster into tribes which then try to prove their superiority to everyone by raiding the neighbouring village and carrying off its temple gods. Male team sports are our socially acceptable way of casting off all this we-are-the-world business and satisfying our more tribal instincts – which are also why those are the sports, which, from time to time, do descend into actual tragedy, unlike cycling and golf.
However, where there is no tragedy, I must admit that watching guys be tough and energetic is very entertaining…and terrifying. If you don’t believe anything I’ve written, watch this. Here’s another reason men were made (and don’t tell me you wouldn’t be scared if they danced this at you. The other guys are holding hands for a reason):