Saturday, 22 April 2017

Reviving the Gladiator.

It concerns me that professional sport seems to be heading down a dangerous and unsavoury road. I remember when I was a kid somebody telling me: ‘Football isn’t sport any more; it’s big business now.’ I think it was partly true then, and I think it’s almost totally true now.

For let’s not forget that professional sport is an arm of the entertainment industry in which the game is the commodity and the crowd sitting in the stand or watching on a screen the ultimate source of the income. And like any industry, the first priority is profit.

So greed takes over. Profits have to grow because that’s what industries expect and enough is never enough. The marketing people move in so the hype and razzmatazz get cranked up and become an integral part of something to which they should be no more than a minor adjunct. It all becomes very silly and patently irrelevant, but that isn’t the dangerous bit.

The dangerous bit is that players have to be constantly stretched to the limits of endurance and beyond. They have to get better at the job because the crowd, wound up by the hype and razzmatazz, is frenzied and expects more speed, more skill, more aggression, more power. Hits have to be harder so that celebration can be more ecstatic. Enough is never enough. And the pecuniary interests hiding behind the scenes rub their hands while life-changing injuries become ever more serious and ever more commonplace.

An expert on concussion said today that ‘rugby is becoming unplayable.’ Concussion has reached epidemic proportions over recent years at the top level of that particular game. The authorities who govern the sporting side of things have made rules and established protocols in an effort to contain it, but the pressure on players to perform with total commitment is irresistible if they are to succeed and become heroes. And so the injuries continue to grow.

Where will it all end? Will professional sport become war in all but name? Will sports stadia become so many Coliseums where players give their lives to feed the frenzied sharks scenting blood? Will they be happy that the survivors become relatively rich, and will they expect medals if they die for the cause?

There was a film back in the seventies called Rollerball which forecast just such an eventuality. Did it make a difference?

No comments: