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                                                    SPORT, AND HUMANISM.

I have no interest in physical, athletic sport. Iíve been accused of being Ďgayí for declaring that I neither support (Manchester) City or United. The value of healthy exercise aside, sport is generally over-concerned with winning, and beating the opposition. That means it automatically relegates oppositional human beings to the status of also-rans, and second raters. Business capitalism works on the same principle. Competition makes us too assertive, and aggressive, and greedy for success. Some sports and pastimes can be educationally beneficial, if skill is developed in mastering moves and tactics involved. Exercise is good, and we can swim, walk, cycle or run, or sail without racing against our friends. We may say to ourselves that taking part matters more than winning, but we are happier when we win.

International competition makes our supporters all the more patriotic, nationalistic, and jingoistic. We still long nostalgically for a repeat of Englandís 1966 World Cup Victory, and some resent Germany as much for beating us since then, on the pitch, as for any wars we have fought with them this century. For many sports national anthems and martial, patriotic prayers are presented before a game, and at award ceremonies. Religion has a way of creeping onto the ballpark. Religion competes for converts while Humanists decline to play or pray for afterlife gold, silver or bronze medals.

For professional football teams, too many losses means relegation to lower divisions, and fewer sponsorship and advertising deals, if not fewer fans. (Long term mass audience loyalty is for winning teams). The big, successful teams, such as Man. United, can stay successful by buying the best players from other teams, at home and abroad, and leave the lesser, poorer clubs with inferior players who lack the prestige or the professional support the winners luxuriate in. Worse, the selection of players from an international smorgasbord of talent means that calling a team Manchester United or City is absurd, when the focus on exclusively local talent has long since been eroded away. Crass consumerism means fans of big teams have barely bought their sons the team strip when the colours and sponsorship logos change and make the glorified PE kit unfashionable again. Crass football pop songs are also among the worst records ever recorded and sold commercially.

Blood sports are obviously a major no-no for Humanists too. Boxing, (the noble British art of beating your opponent unconscious) pledges to be the sport of Gentlemen who abide by the Queensbury rules of sporting etiquette. (This was the Marquis who showed no mercy to Oscar Wilde in the famous libel case). On the whole, for Humanists, boxing should be regarded as no better than broken bottle fighting in pubs, or illegal bare-knuckle street fights. We darenít ban boxing though, or street-fighting, without adequate medical supervision may be what we get instead. Animal hunting is also off the Humanist list of pastimes. Fox-hunting is one, but a few eyebrows may be raised when I suggest fishing is unacceptable to me personally too. Many anglers say fish feel no pain, which I doubt, but spare a thought for the bait. Maggots are stored alive in fridges, and Tupperware boxes, before being skewered on a barbed fish hook, and cast into polluted water, where they either drown or get eaten alive? Is fishing still not on your list of blood sports?

Sport is also rife with all sorts of superstitious beliefs that Humanists find laughable. Here are a few highlights from the crazy world of sport. 

 

BASEBALL players donít like cross-eyed women in the stands, red headed women are lucky, especially if they give the player a hairpin. He must place his gloves down with the fingers pointing to his own baseline. He canít lend his bat to another player as each one is believed only magical for so many strikes. Dogs on the pitch are unlucky, and no season must start on a Friday. 

BOXING - Boxers often carry good luck charms, and Believe tat it is bad luck to be first into the ring. New shoes are to be worn in each bout, and it's important to spit on the palms of the gloves to avoid offending the gods of fortune. Being punched out cold is bad enough, but stamping your saliva on your opponent sounds positively disgusting. 

CRICKET - A score of 111 is unlucky as it is symbolic of the wickets without the bails on top. There are lucky & unlucky bats, balls, and grounds. 13 is a bad score too, certain caps & sweaters may be regarded as lucky. Itís good to see a black cat at the start of the game but not on leaving the pavilion. Itís unlucky to restart a bowlerís run for that bowler. Batsmen should never unwittingly put their pads on wrong (left pad on right leg, etc). No two batsmen should wash their hands at the same time. 

 

DARTS -Playing against women is said to be unlucky, (one superstition rooted plainly in pre-feminist currency thinking) Players sometimes use the left foot to wipe the line clean of any invisible omens of bad luck that lie between themselves and the board. 

FOOTBALL - Lucky mascots are supposed to help a team out, so many have a token pet animal or a precocious boy or girl fan elected as Mascot.  In some teams, the superstition sets in before the players leave the dressing room; where the oldest player is expected to bounce the ball and toss it to the youngest, who must catch it to favour victory on the pitch. Goalkeepers kick each post of the goal net itself for luck, and the captain will bounce the ball three times on the kick off spot for good luck. Players feel unlucky if watched by their wives and girlfriends. Some teams faring badly believe that their grounds, or certain players are cursed by some group or individuals. Manchester Cityís Main Road football ground was built on the site of a Romany Gypsy encampment, and the gypsies were kicked out accordingly. Is there a curse, or are City just playing badly anyway? Even the chanting, shouting and bearing of banners (official ones being so conveniently pricey) is based on a desire to ward off a teamís bad fortune on the field of play. 

GAMBLING - Always a problem in sport is that of fans betting on oneís fortunes to improve their own. Delusions abound here; novices fare well (beginners luck), and you fare better on borrowed money (a superstition leading straight to debts and legs being broken by loan sharks). Never pick up your cards before the dealer has finished giving them out, blow on the pack of cards when shuffling, sit on a handkerchief or a on a chair turned astride. Some cards are unlucky, spades in general, but especially the Queen, (death card), Two aces & two eights are unlucky, (they were for Wild Bill Hickock, who was shot dead while holding this hand). 

GOLF - Many golfers carry a club that is there for luck, but only if not used in a particular tournament. Never change your mind about a using a club once it is selected. If you win the first hole, you are said to lose the match more often than not. The thirteenth hole fills golfers with dread, and golfers donít like teeing off at 1 pm (13.00 hours). 

HORSE RACING -The winning certainty based on a hunch invariably leaves gamblers skint, and never wish a jockey or his horse good luck before a race or heís destined to lose. 

MOTOR-RACING - Never enter a racing car from the exhaust side, or offer autographs and photographs of yourself before the race. 

MOUNTAINEERING - Wear an eagleís tongue sown into your coat collar (available at all too few mountaineering shops sadly). I do agree however that falling off a mountain is bad luck. 

SHOOTING - Have a virgin jump in front of your gun before you shoot game or clay pigeons, and you wonít be able to miss. If you miss the first shot, (due to forgetting about leaping virgins) the rest of the competition will go badly for you. 

SWIMMING - ĎHe who bathes in May will soon be laid in clay/ He who bathes in June will sing a merry tune/ But he who bathes in July will dance like a fly.í This only applies to your first seaside swim, (paddling doesnít count). To fully submerge yourself and even to bathe all over cleans away all your good luck. Miners used to leave some muck on their backs to ward off potential pit cave ins. It is said to be lucky to see someone skinny-dipping (but only if unexpectedly, and if you donít get arrested for voyeurism). 

YACHTING -It is believed dangerous to win in a practice race or rehearsal run, as you cannot then repeat such success.

Nonsense beliefs to a (golf) tee, of coarse. For me, the not taking part matters more than the winning. Many Humanists will like some or more of the above sports, and some may even take part in such activity, so my views on the subject are far from universal. Does that mean my views on sport compete with alternative viewpoints? If so, which will win the day? Perhaps we compete, and aim to win too much, even outside the sporting arena. To paraphrase the motto of the Special Air Services as my own; WHO CARES WHO WINS? 

Do you ever ask yourself how pool tables took over from snooker tables in pubs? The reason is that pool matches are shorter, so you end up paying for more games, and less time to develop skills. Worse, because the rules have it that you play the next competitor in the queue if you win, you end up playing strangers all night instead of the players you want to compete with. Bring back proper pub snooker! Itís cheaper, and more friendly all round.

Arthur Chappell

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