Why do we take sport so seriously?

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You could say I’ve been courting the unforgivable: let’s examine why sport and the competition it elicits are taken so seriously. After all, when you think about it, sport is useless: it’s a trivial, purposeless activity that has no obvious function, save for entertaining us — and, of course, separating us from our hard-earned money. Will sport offer a way of bringing peace on earth? Saving the planet, or advancing us closer towards discovering a cure for cancer? I guess, in its way, professional sport does its bit, working in collaboration with charities and other great causes. But just think about it: what is the point of eleven grown men trying to move a ball in one direction, while another eleven grown men try to stop them? Or grown men or women fighting hammer and tong in a roped-in space? Or adults chasing each other around a quarter-mile of track? Some might answer: they are engaged in the pursuit of excellence. But what is that excellence for? To compound my offence, I argued that parents were misguided if they encouraged their children to aim for a career in professional sports. Thirty years ago, parents would do everything in their power to get their children off the sports field and into the classroom. It’s testimony to the inflated importance of sport in contemporary culture that parents today see sport as a viable career path. They might just as well urge their children to shoot for a chance of winning The X Factor — and remember this much-maligned tv programme is often seen as a symbol of all that’s crass and valueless in modern society. Let’s be realistic: the chances of a young man or woman holding down a job in competitive sports for even a year are remote. “Hang on!” a radio presenter told me yesterday.”If this happened, we would get no more Jess Ennises or Andy Murrays.” So what? Ennis-Hill (pictured above), Murray and, we might add, David Beckham, Amir Khan and countless others, have given us great pleasure and perhaps satisfaction in being British. But, with the possible exception of Beckham who has aligned himself with good causes, the others have made little contribution to the world — the real world — outside sport. I like sport: I enjoy watching it, reading about it, talking about it. I even teach about it. But that doesn’t stop me thinking intelligently about it. Over the past twenty-four hours, there’s been plenty of media traffic about my argument — which, by the way, grew out of comments I made on air about how little we cared about the recent Winter Olympic games. I’m writing this merely to establish the context in which I made the remarks. Sport has become a prominent feature of society and it gives many of us great pleasure. But don’t treat it as a sacred cow — an institution held above criticism. You can respect something, but remain critical.  @elliscashmore