Shabbat Goy: Just a game

It is quite nice that, for the most part, the passions, anger, exhilaration and disappointment of sports stay in the arena.

Israeli Sports (photo credit: Courtesy )
Israeli Sports
(photo credit: Courtesy )
‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play,” George Orwell once wrote. “It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”
Was he right? Who knows? I wouldn’t know serious sport if it jabbed me in the ribs and blew a raspberry in my face. But quite a few people seem to think so.
Over the past couple of months, with the Olympic Games and before that with the European Football Championships, we’ve had his quote brought up over and over again. It might be that the quoters are other haters of organized sports. (At Orwell’s school, those in charge believed that participation in sports was character-forming. There are few things in the world that a teenaged boy would want less than to have his character formed.) But it is worth thinking about seriously.
One thing that’s for certain: People do take their sports seriously. I had a friend over from Nigeria during the football competition in June. He was surprised by the amount of interest in the competition in these parts, given Israel’s non-participation. He didn’t mind, of course: Soccer is a universal language, and he was quite happy to don his Chelsea shirt and partake in the ecumenical celebrations prompted by two sets of men in shorts chasing a ball round a field.
Poking fun at the grown men and women who wear their teams’ colors on their backs and their emotions on their sleeves can be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. It’s just a game, one wants to shout.
Get a life. But on the other hand, the fact that the passion, the anger, the exhilaration and the disappointment that soccer fans invest in the game usually remains within the sports arena is quite nice.
Yeah, we do have those who think of their team colors as heraldic devices leading them into battle.
But they are the minority. With most, all the passion stays in the the game. Which isn’t such a bad thing, is it? I’m writing this on the last day of the Olympics.
It’s been a wonderful fortnight in London, and I’m really pleased that I had the chance to be in the city during what has been a magnificent celebration of sports and more.
Churning out the cliches, am I? Yeah, I suppose so.
But it is true. And I’m not just talking about the opportunity to to reacquaint myself with the technical niceties of beach volleyball, for example. (As an aside, the arena for this particular competition this sport is just across the street from the seat of Her Majesty’s government. I can’t for the life of me imagine why... it’s not like politicians and senior civil servants ever have time for extra-curricular activities.
Like watching what, in essence, is Baywatch disguised as competitive sport.) But sports aside, one of the more interesting aspects of the Olympic celebrations in London have been the international hospitality houses, hosted by individual nations as a showcase of their respective countries’ culture and heritage. Deliberately or not, many of them brought something of their national identity to London for the month.
The Nigeria House was mainly about booze and books, Casa Italia gave my son a toy car and (apparently) some choice advice: “Daddy, why do you always drive so slowly?” he asked the next day. (I’m an Israeli driver, remember.) We went ice-skating in Russia, samba dancing in Brazil. We couldn’t visit the United States House because it was only open to citizens of God’s Own Country (and even for them, just the shop, apparently); most of Africa clubbed together to open what, by all accounts, was a vibrant, stimulating African Village, until it was closed down halfway through the Olympics. Unpaid debts, apparently.
And Israel? Naught. Nada. Nothing. Perhaps they are afraid of an Israel House becoming a magnet for pro-Palestinian demonstrations, Mrs. Goy speculated.
But I don’t really think so. If for no other reason, political demonstrations – justified or not – would have missed the mood of the moment dreadfully, and if anything would just simply go to confirm what many people are beginning to think: that all participants in the never-ending Middle Eastern imbroglio are narcissists and incapable of thinking about anything other than their own narrow interests.
Once upon a time, Israel spent a lot of time and energy in... rectifying, repairing, restoring, whatever you want to call it, its reputation with the wider world. This would have been the perfect arena to try, for once, to push some of the positive things about our country. But not a peep. Perhaps we can’t be bothered to try and make friends in the international community any more.
Looking at the Israeli weekend papers online, all seemed preoccupied with the likelihood of war with Iran in the immediate future. My views on the matter are relatively unformed and uninformed, so anything I have to say about the matter is of little import. But one thing did strike me about the tone of the coverage in the newspapers. Grandiloquent, grandstanding, gung-ho to the extreme.
I think George got it wrong. It is journalism, not sports, that is war minus the shooting. A little bit of fair play – writing about the consequences of war – won’t go amiss at this point in time.