In sport, man does not confront man directly. There enters between them an intermediary, a stake, a machine, a puck, or a ball. And this thing is the very symbol of things: it is in order to possess it, to master it, that one is strong, adroit, courageous … Ultimately man knows certain forces, certain conflicts, joys and agonies; sport expresses them, liberates them, consumes them without ever letting anything be destroyed … In sport, man experiences life’s fatal combat, but this combat is distanced by the spectacle, reduced to its forms, cleared of its effects, of its dangers, and of its shames: it loses its noxiousness, not its brilliance or its meaning … What is sport? Sport answers this question by another question: who is best? But to this question of the ancient duels, sport gives a new meaning: for man’s excellence is sought here only in relation to things. Who is the best man to overcome the resistance of things, the immobility of nature? Who is the best to work the world, to give it to men … to all men? That is what sport says.
OK, I’ll bear this in mind the next time I see a premiership footballer throwing the ball away petulantly, or a manager going red on the touchline and pointing at his watch, or Chelsea players screaming at the referee and claiming that the whole of UEFA is corrupt because they have been denied a couple of penalty appeals. Or perhaps I will give the last word to George Orwell who said that ‘sport is war minus the shooting’.
PS Here are a couple of early reviews of my new book, On Roads, from the monthlies:
There was also a nice one by Giles Foden in Conde Nast Traveller but that doesn’t seem to be on the internet.