Thursday, 31 January 2013

Organised Sport #1

Sport is tied to industry because it represents a reaction against industrial life. In fact, the best athletes come from working-class environments. Peasants, woodsmen, and the like, may be more vigorous than the proletariat, but they are not as good athletes. In part, the reason for this is that machine work develops the musculature necessary for sport, which is very different from peasant musculature. Machine work also develops the speed and precision of actions and reflexes

Moreover, sport is linked with the technical world because sport itself is a technique. The enormous contrast between the athletes of Greece and those of Rome is well known. For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for developing the legionnaire’s efficiency. The Roman concept prevails today. Everyone knows the difference between a fisherman, a sailor, a swimmer, a cyclist, and people who fish, sail, swim, and cycle for sport. The last are technicians; as J√ľnger says, they "tend to carry to perfection the mechanical side of their activity." This mechanisation of actions is accompanied by the mechanisation of sporting goods - stop watches, starting machines, and so on. In this exact measurement of time, in this precision training of muscular actions, and in the principle of the "record" we find repeated in sport one of the essential elements of industrial life.

Here too, the human being becomes a kind of machine, and his machine-controlled activity becomes a technique. This technical civilisation profits by this mechanisation: the individual, by means of the discipline imposed on him by sport, not only plays and finds relaxation from the various compulsions to which he is subjected, but without knowing it trains himself for new compulsions. A familiar process is repeated: real play and enjoyment, contact with air and water, improvisation and spontaneity all disappear. These values are lost to the pursuit of efficiency, records, and strict rules. Training in sports makes of the individual an efficient apparatus which is henceforth unacquainted with anything but the harsh joy of exploiting his body and winning.

The most important thing, however, is not the education of a few specialists, but the extension of the sporting mentality to the masses. Insofar as this represents a vigorous reaction to the mere passivity of spectator sports, it is good. But the usual result is the integration of more and more innocents into an insidious technique.

- Jacques Ellul, "The Technological Society"

3 comments:

William said...

The great proof of this: how athletes’ bodies 'wear out' in later life, like an over-used machine. So many dodgy knees and elbows. Or they become bloated once they retire and no longer have to follow dietary regimes.

One of the best guarantees of good health in later life is to not have played a lot of competitive sport as an adult.

Bobby's Dream said...

There's something striking about the lack of pleasure, or any other purpose beyond winning, in this reductive approach to physical activity.
Witness the 'progress' of Andy Murray from'dour faced Scots misery' to 'almost English' national treasure - he's still appears miserable as fuck, as if admitting what most professional sportspeople don't, that he is torturing his body beyond endurance - but at least he wins things now so we get some mass reward for our complicity in his torture.

Phil Knight said...

We should all appreciate the genius of Matthew Le Tissier, getting paid to be a professional sportsman for 90 minutes a week, and actually being one for about 2 and a half minutes.