Issue 176 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review

STACK
ON THE BACK

Out of character

'Yet again, the people who take no risks pronounce with pompous confidence on the safety of those who do'

The last month has not been a good one for sport. For a small number of sportsmen it has been a fatal one.

No fewer than four of them have lost their lives. Bradley Stone became the latest boxer to pay the ultimate price for this brutal excuse for entertainment. Motor racing's most famous name, Ayrton Senna, and the lesser known Ratzenburger were both killed in horrific crashes within a day of each other. Finally the jockey, Steve Wood, was killed when falling from his horse in a flat race.

All this comes at a time when the government is insisting that sport, and in particular 'competitive sport', must once more become a compulsory element of school life.

Why? Because, we are told, sport is healthy and it is character forming. Now there is no doubt that physical exercise is good for you. But it is interesting to note that the government rules will not allow physical fitness exercises like aerobics to count as part of compulsory sports lessons.

Which tends to suggest that these plans have little to do with the physical well-being of the nation's youth, and a whole lot to do with mad theories about character forming and the like.

Teaching kids to be competitive is apparently of the utmost importance. How are they to survive in the big wide world if they've never had to survive the tackle from behind? How are they to get on in life if they've never stood up like a man to a bouncer or a left hook? And how the hell are they going to stamp their authority on the world if they've never stamped on an opponent in the ruck?

So sport becomes some mini dog-eat-dog version of the capitalist world.

What's more, the better people get at sport the more likely that it can do something else highly pleasing to the champions of our system: make profit! Once it can do that, then health, good or otherwise, becomes irrelevant. Money becomes the key and profits have to come before people.

This is most obviously true when it comes to boxing. As a young lad I loved watching the sport. Mohammed Ali was one of my heroes. He was bright, articulate, witty, a rebel with a cause.

I remember laughing with pride when he described how, coming back from winning an Olympic boxing medal for the US, he went to a restaurant in the deep South where the red faced waitress exclaimed, 'Sorry sir, we don't serve negroes.' 'That's alright lady', Ali retorted, 'I don't eat 'em'.

Ali took on the white establishment, he filled stadiums with white men wanting to see this 'uppity nigger' get beat, but he always won. Yeah, Ali had the last laugh. Or did he? For that bright and articulate young man had, long before he was 50, turned into a mumbling, stumbling, sad and incoherent old man.

While sharp eyed promoters like Mickey Duff and Frank Warren grow richer, and smarter, and more respected, the people that earn them their money take repeated damaging blows to the head that are liable to make them incoherent semi vegetables long before old age.

And a few don't even make it that far. For them the blow to the head comes earlier and ends their life. Hence Bradley Stone, the latest victim of this character forming, profit making travesty of entertainment.

Meanwhile, motor racing authorities had become worried that some of the glamour had gone out of their sport, and maybe some of the money would follow. So they decided to remove some of the safety improvements that had been introduced over the years and that had seen the sport go some 12 years without a single fatality.

A young driver, Ayrton Senna, who just happened to be the world champion, warned that the new rules would take lives. He was right, and tragically one of those lives has proved to be his own.

How have those in the know reacted? Nothing to do with our changes, proclaim the authorities--pure coincidence. As for Murray Walker, the buffoon who makes a living out of commentating on motor racing, he explains that it's just the law of averages working its way through.

Yet again, the people who take no risks pronouncing with pompous confidence on the safety of the lives of those who do.

In case any Tory thinks that these disasters only happen in adult sport, let us look at the competition factor taken to its extreme among children. In an attempt to solve Britain's sporting demise, there are demands for earlier and earlier 'professionalism' from kids.

So, we are told, Britain needs the same sort of professional approach to tennis as the Americans if there is ever to be a British Wimbledon champ again.

Ah yes, let's follow the American example, where kids are taken from their homes and turned into tennis machines from as young as ten upwards; where before the age of 14 they have become so good that they can become part of the professional circuit, with all the strains that involves.

Already three or four teenage champs have become adult wrecks who had to turn their back on a game they once loved in order to preserve their sanity.

The latest victim is Jennifer Capriati. A few short years ago she was a 13 year old wonderkid. In the last few months she has been busted for shoplifting and drugs.

Ah yes, very character forming!
Pat Stack


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