“As usual, everyone answers these questions according to his political predilections.”

With the non-North American’s world’s attentions about to be reset away from oil spills and volcanoes and the long, slow, bleed to anarchy, the preparations for tomorrow’s World Cup had me thinking about Orwell’s famous essay on the Moscow Dynamo tour of 1945 England that caused a fair amount of Russkie anger in that delicate country.

I, personally, have a tendency to, as Orwell puts it in the essay, “blah-blah about the clean, healthy rivalry of the football field” (or hockey rink). And, all things being equal, if I was forced to remove either the World Cup or the collected essays of George Orwell from the march of 20th century culture, I’d have to think it over. This being said, the way the Footy Show pundits talked today of lineups and striking and tactics without ever coming clean on the militaristic root of sports strategy had me thinking back to Orwell’s little op-ed. I’m not sure if this is in the public domain or not, but, here’s hoping. I’ve reprinted the original essay, with a handful of interruptions. I don’t disagree with it, per se, and I’m more than willing to believe that the things that I like are bad for me, but I can’t shake the idea that I’m watching someone play to his audience in, at times, the easiest possible way.

And for the record, if anyone wants to compare notes, I’m willing to divulge a couple secrets from Vox’s Wicked Unbeatable World Cup Bracket. It’s highlights are an all-Southern Hemisphere final four, an all-South American final (Brazil d. Argentina) and the Americans topping the English in their Pool (and thus insuring their cultural and militaristic dominance within the Anglo-American alliance for at least another four years). For God and Country, as they say. Ole, Ole. These colours don’t run. You’re either with us, or you’re with Paraguay.

Essay: “The Sporting Spirit”, by George Orwell.
no rights claimed or owned.

Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end, 
it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying 
privately before the Dynamos ever arrived. That is, that sport is an 
unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit as this had any 
effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them 
slightly worse than before. 

Even the newspapers have been unable to conceal the fact that at least 
two of the four matches played led to much bad feeling. At the Arsenal 
match, I am told by someone who was there, a British and a Russian player 
came to blows and the crowd booed the referee. The Glasgow match, someone 
else informs me, was simply a free-for-all from the start. And then there 
was the controversy, typical of our nationalistic age, about the 
composition of the Arsenal team. Was it really an all-England team, as 
claimed by the Russians, or merely a league team, as claimed by the 
British? And did the Dynamos end their tour abruptly in order to avoid 
playing an all-England team? As usual, everyone answers these questions 
according to his political predilections. Not quite everyone, however. I 
noted with interest, as an instance of the vicious passions that football 
provokes, that the sporting correspondent of the russophile NEWS 
CHRONICLE took the anti-Russian line and maintained that Arsenal was NOT 
an all-England team. No doubt the controversy will continue to echo for 
years in the footnotes of history books. Meanwhile the result of the 
Dynamos’ tour, in so far as it has had any result, will have been to 
create fresh animosity on both sides. 

And how could it be otherwise? I am always amazed when I hear people 
saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only 
the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or 
cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even 
if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for 
instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, 
one could deduce it from general principles. 

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive (Vox’s Note: Ya don’t say, George…). You play to 
win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On 
the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local 
patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and 
exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you 
feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the 
most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even 
in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport 
is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour 
of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the 
spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these 
absurd contests, and seriously believe–at any rate for short 
periods–that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national 

Even a leisurely game like (Vox’s Note: Awkward colonial overtones ahead…) cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, 
can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line 
bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited 
England in 1921. Football, a game in which everyone gets hurt and every 
nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners, is far 
worse. Worst of all is boxing. One of the most horrible sights in the 
world is a fight between white and coloured boxers before a mixed 
audience. But a boxing audience is always disgusting, and the behaviour 
of the women, in particular, is such that the army, I believe, does not 
allow them to attend its contests (Vox’s Note: …or its army). At any rate, two or three years ago, 
when Home Guards and regular troops were holding a boxing tournament, I 
was placed on guard at the door of the hall, with orders to keep the 
women out. 

In England, the obsession with sport is bad enough, but even fiercer 
passions are aroused in young countries where games playing and 
nationalism are both recent developments. In countries like India or 
Burma, it is necessary at football matches to have strong cordons of 
police to keep the crowd from invading the field. In Burma, I have seen 
the supporters of one side break through the police and disable the 
goalkeeper of the opposing side at a critical moment. The first big 
football match that was played in Spain about fifteen years ago led to an 
uncontrollable riot. As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, 
the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. 
People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and 
they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the 
intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t 
intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own 
side and “rattling” opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport 
has nothing to do with fair play. 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. (Vox’s Note: But if the alternative is war plus the shooting, then what? Not that I’m subscribing to the easy masculine-catharsis view of competitive sport. And we’re still talking about soccer here, right? The sport where it’s illegal to touch the guy with the ball? It’s not the World Cup of Raping, George.)

Instead of blah-blahing about the clean, healthy rivalry of the football 
field and the great part played by the Olympic Games in bringing the 
nations together, it is more useful to inquire how and why this modern 
cult of sport arose. Most of the games we now play are of ancient origin, 
but sport does not seem to have been taken very seriously between Roman 
times and the nineteenth century. Even in the English public schools the 
games cult did not start till the later part of the last century. Dr 
Arnold, generally regarded as the founder of the modern public school, 
looked on games as simply a waste of time. Then, chiefly in England and 
the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, 
capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the 
infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently 
combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There 
cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of 
nationalism–that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying 
oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of 
competitive prestige. Also, organised games are more likely to flourish 
in urban communities where the average human being lives a sedentary or 
at least a confined life, and does not get much opportunity for creative 
labour. In a rustic community a boy or young man works off a good deal of 
his surplus energy by walking, swimming, snowballing, climbing trees, 
riding horses, and by various sports involving cruelty to animals, such 
as fishing, cock-fighting and ferreting for rats. In a big town one must 
indulge in group activities if one wants an outlet for one’s physical 
strength or for one’s sadistic impulses. Games are taken seriously in 
London and New York, and they were taken seriously in Rome and Byzantium: 
in the Middle Ages they were played, and probably played with much 
physical brutality, but they were not mixed up with politics nor a cause 
of group hatreds.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world 
at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of 
football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and 
British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be 
watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. (Vox’s Note: Strange how many of these rivalries remain to this day. I disagree, however, that the matches “add” to the ill-will. Rather, they display it. Surely a lesser crime, and sometimes a utilitarian action…) I do not, of course, 
suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; 
big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes 
that have produced nationalism (Vox’s Note: Ah, I forgot about this caveat. Ignore the previous note, George). Still, you do make things worse by 
sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do 
battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides 
that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

I hope, therefore, that we shan’t follow up the visit of the Dynamos by 
sending a British team to the USSR. If we must do so, then let us 
send a second-rate team which is sure to be beaten and cannot be claimed 
to represent Britain as a whole. There are quite enough real causes of 
trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to 
kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.

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