“Our initial reaction was to worry that one of the Sri Lankan cricketers had been killed, as if their lives were somehow more important than the lives of the policemen who were escorting them. Such is the way of thinking after something like this.”
– King Cricket March 3rd, 2009
This perception seems to be quite true, but why? Why is the outbreak of such abrupt violence in the world of sport more shocking but also more interesting than politically related violence?
Sport has a place alongside the political concerns of the ‘real world’. It allows people to invest massive emotion into something – a football team or national side, for example – without worrying about the implications. Sport offers a safe place to invest hopes and dreams. It has an elaborately constructed history of rules and rivalries that mirrors that of international relations. The crucial difference is that sport is not troubled by ethics (though it does have its own internal code of sportsmanship).
Mitchell and Webb show exactly why sport can mean everything and nothing at the same time, by reducing it ‘ad absurdum’. The sketch is funny because it’s completely accurate, but it’s not an indictment. All sports are repeating patterns which offer some kind of story to those who care enough and want to find it out. The sports journalist Simon Barnes, of the Times, describes himself as a storyteller in The Meaning of Sport.
But sport doesn’t have to mean anything at all. It’s voluntary; something to opt in and out of as you please. So when that dynamic works the other way round, when genuine tragedy and violence intrude upon this sporting Shangri-La, we feel that a violation has taken place. For all its bluster, sport is a passive thing, unlike the implicit and causal involvement of politics with current events. Sport acts outwardly only when its actions are unequivocally good; charity work, or the development of inner city areas for the Olympics, for example. It does this because it can afford to; being a luxury itself. Moments when athletes have been seriously endangered, or worse, represent an almost unthinkable reversal of this dynamic and as a consequence, they outgrow our usual (and well-used) terms for tragedy. They become somehow morbidly fascinating. Think of the Munich air disaster in 1958, for example, or the Superga Tragedy in 1949.
Obviously, this is not to say that they are comparatively ‘worse’ than similar events outside the world of sport. I am only trying to suggest why the conflict between violence and sport, whether intended or accidental, has a unique kind of impact. One thing, unfortunately, seems certain. Aggressors such as those who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team will be aware of the effect it has had. Sport, like everything else, is not sacred.
This is a ticklish topic. Please give constructive criticism or opinion.