Sunday, November 12, 2006

Before I die ...

It is a current trend to publish lists of what you should see before you die. Most give between 60 and 100 sights; all are possible if you have sufficient income. I have two. Neither seems likely. However wealthy I become they are totally outside my control. I want to see Swinton beat Salford and Great Britain to win a series against Australia (though a Tri-Nations Trophy will do). Yes, it is Rugby League. Allegiance to sporting teams is curious and irrational but life would not be the same without it. However, sport can be problematic for the left.

Marxists long had an antipathy to sport as a form of false consciousness, deflecting the workers from their historical revolutionary path. Chomsky is unsurprisingly the most banal modern writer in this school. New Labour may have adopted football as a badge of their "New Laddishness" but, with some exceptions, it smacks of opportunism and a visible act of rejection of the anti-competitive leftism of the Seventies and Eighties, rather than the devotion of the true fan. Working class histories often completely omit organised sport, despite it being central to so many lives. Rugby League's very existence is rooted in the social history of class and regional identity. Its sense of solidarity was formed against a century of persecution by Rugby Union, everywhere other than in Wales a sport of the elite.

The best book ever written on sport, C L R James' Beyond a Boundary, takes on this antipathy, relating it to the redefinition of his own political position from his earlier orthodox Trotskyism. A good cricketer, fine historian and brilliant writer, James could not ignore the significance of sport. "A glance at the world showed that when the common people were not at work, one thing they wanted was organised sports and games. They wanted them greedily, passionately". For James sport is a form of popular aesthetic, of assertion and inclusion, a drama of popular democracy. It is art. He writes, "We may some day be able to answer Tolstoy's exasperated and exasperating question: What is art? – but only when we learn to integrate our vision of Walcott on the back foot through the covers with the outstretched arms of the Olympic Apollo".

As for the Rugby League, after exhilarating victory against Australia Great Britain lost to the Kiwis yesterday morning. My best hope is now for longevity.

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