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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1937

Socialised Sport

page 28

Socialised Sport

New Zealand is to have a National Council of Sport. Rather a nebulous body as at present conceived, with a not very concrete plan of action. Still it is to be an organisation, a national organisation, and with the adjective "national" it is sure to find widespread support. The Hon. W. E. Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, and Mr. H. H. McCormick. of the Olympic and Empire Games Association are the prime movers in it. Judging from the newspaper reports of the various meetings and conferences that have discussed it so far. its main purposes are to encourage and develop an interest in sport in the community and to increase facilities for physical training and recreation. Thus will be achieved a proper use of the leisure given us by the 40-hour week, a "general participation in healthy sport," an "inculcation of the spirit of true sportsmanship," and, in fine, a greater physical well-being of the community. This will all be accomplished by the Council working through local committees.

Now the scheme is undoubtedly concerned with a most worthy ideal, and prompted by a sincere desire to "promote a healthy mind and human happiness."

We are rather doubtful, however, about the real urgency of the problem relative to others which might deserve the attention of Government and local bodies. Despite the abundance of good food available in this fertile country, our standard of nutrition among certain classes is not all it might be. A few minutes around Te Aro flat shows us that the housing question is not being dealt with before its time. These two factors alone militate against the full benefits to be derived from increased sport; worse still, too much exercise of undernourished bodies may injure rather than benefit them. Recreation may give a false contentment, an escape from squalid conditions, which obscures the underlying evil. As for the encouragement of more sport, is New Zealand not already sufficiently sport-minded? Judging from Monday morning conversation in trams, it is, although that may not be a fair criterion of participation in sport. Certainly t!ie emphasis must be placed on the practice of sport, not the press-informed discussion of it. Speakers on the subject have referred to the cult of athletics in Grecian civilisation, but it is too often forgotten that the Greeks were concerned equally with music, art, and philisophy, as well as bodily exercises. Have we anything in modern civilisation to compare with the drama, or the crafts which were an essential part of the life of the Greek peoples? In Russia, perhaps, or the Workers' Theatre movement in America; but not in New Zealand. Only provided attention is paid equally to other aspects of improving social conditions is it right to launch any great plan to develop our sports further. Greece suggests another point too—that worship of sport and glorification of the body may become a sexual perversion—like nudism—rather than an emancipation.

Such a project as outlined, moreover, has inherent weaknesses and dangers to be carefully examined and guarded against. Firstly, although Mr. Parry and the Olympic Games Council both stress the point that there is to be "no compulsion against individuals to take part in any particular sport," the proposals of the latter body definitely advocate "compulsory physical education" in schools and that "the training of the youth should be continued until at least the age of 21." Sport and recreation are spontaneous expressions and the whole benefit of them is lost when any compulsion is brought to bear on the individual; even formal exercises require a right condition of mind and a mental concentration, in the absence of which any physical development induced by them is without value. Especially is this so at the age of children in schools. The proposal to increase the facilities for sport, and to provide advice concerning it is much more likely to benefit the community than a system involving any suspicion of force or coercion. Medical advice on the best form of sport to undertake, as suggested in the outlined scheme, can be particularly valuable; while a very little instruction in some sports may enhance both the enjoyment and the physical benefit derived from them. Planning of playing grounds, giving open spaces near crowded areas, could be an admirable function of the council, and be an aesthetic as well as a physical advantage.

The proposed council is to consist of representatives, chosen by the Government, from the Health and Education Departments, the B.M.A., national sports organisations, schools, and the Olympic Games Association. Of these, page 29 the larger sports organisations are a potential danger. Should powerful and influential bodies such as the Rugby Union gain too much control, we fear that their known proclivity to monopolise sport may adversely affect the project. Recent weeks have shown not only the value which such organisations place on "gates," but the extent to which the people will go when in the grip of a national mania such as Big Football. To encourage the development of such a taste for vicarious participation in sport from the grandstand, which we feel is the main object of spectacular commercialised stunts masquerading as "international sport," would defeat the whole aim for which the Council is being established.

Our Council for Sport is to be modelled on the lines already adopted in England. Precisely how this organisation works we have not been able to find out. but we do know that it received a great stimulus from the military authorities in Britain, and that it has been regarded by the latter as a great convenience for recruiting purposes. Because we regard the upkeep in New Zealand of a peace time infantry force, whether voluntary or compulsory, as a force which would be ludicrous were it not potentially dangerous, we believe that any attempt to link this new scheme with military organisation should be resisted to the utmost. We are still told that the discipline of the old compulsory training days was a desirable thing; our experience was that it was a system based on bullying and the right of strength, and as such, an evil that should not be tolerated in days when there is at least some tendency to think along lines of expression rather than repression. The ease with which an organisation devised for sport and recreation could be converted to a war machine or a political party is, we repeat, a danger that must be guarded against. Mr. Parry says that no such "regimentation" is intended; but under the emotions which prevail over reason in the stress of a national crisis, the old ideal is easily lost, and the potentiality becomes the accomplished fact. Development in this way has occurred in Italy and Germany, where the Ballila and the Hitler-Jugend stand behind the controlling political organisations. The 1936 Olympic Games showed in many incidents the way in which the German Sporting Organisations lay in the control of Nazi authority.

On the other hand, in Scandinavian countries where the youth and sporting bodies are allied with the state educational organisations, politics has swayed them less. The comparison between these lands and the Fascist states may not be strictly just, since they have not known the intense political turmoil that has racked the latter. To regard the activities of the Council as a function of national education, seems however, to be the desirable approach. Fortunately the organisers of the Council seem to incline to this view. The ideal of Greece, where athletic sports was part of the national culture, is more worthy of attainment than that of Rome, in which physical prowess was ordered for martial purposes.

This review is but a scanty outline of an interesting and important movement afoot in New Zealand, all the more interesting in that it is a symbol of the present trend in social developments here. We have sought to indicate at least some of its potential dangers as well as its merits. Now in concluding we ask, what is the attitude of the university towards such a scheme? The duty is plain. To give the Council any assistance that lies in our power—and as a body concerned primarily with the education of young adults, the opportunities can be considerable. The organisation of our sporting clubs can well be adapted for co-operation with the new body. At the same time independent criticism is always a function of the university, so that a critical attitude to this new organisation should it evolve in any direction inimical to social progress is as much the concern of the university as any study of art or philosophy.