A farewell, for now, to all the distracting glories of sport


It’s ironic, at least in the Alanis Morissette sense. For my entire life, the world’s sporting federations have been trying to turn me into a couch potato — gorging on endless amounts of high-quality sporting “content”. Now I have nothing else to do, and there’s no sport to watch.

The Premier League, the Six Nations, Euro 2020, the French Open, probably the Olympics — all postponed. Sport was the distraction that became the main event — the dessert that became a main course. Now it’s off the menu.

It’s tempting to see this as an opportunity. A respite from the egos, the money, the absurd controversies. Why do we tie our happiness to games which we cannot influence and which do not influence our health or financial wellbeing? 

But I will miss it. I will miss Tottenham manager José Mourinho explaining a 4-0 home defeat by pointing out his team should have had a throw-in in the second half. I will miss John McEnroe saying of a struggling tennis player, “He can’t buy a first serve.” I will miss Manchester City finding that no corporate lawyer is good enough to defend its finances. I will miss other football clubs discovering some foreign “billionaires” have no actual money. 

I will miss retired cricketers spending the final five decades of their lives
discussing the way they hit a ball in their twenties. I will miss rugby commentators expressing shock at serious injuries as if they were unforeseeable. I will not miss rugby league.

I will miss trying to learn the rules of American football once a year. I will miss no one caring about baseball. I will miss the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, even though it violates the spirit of sport by making winning the only form of
success and second place abject failure. 

I will miss people pretending that golf is a sport, rather than a gigantic waste of water. I will miss avoiding anyone who expresses interest in Formula One. I will miss boxers predicting what round they will knock each other out in, even though no boxer in history has successfully predicted this. 

I will miss the bit in the Grand National when a riderless horse briefly leads the field, reminding us that the animals can run faster without us. I will miss Sebastian Coe pretending that the London Olympics he was charged with organising were on budget. I will miss every country in the world thinking that they are excelling at the Olympics, simply because national TV only screens the events they are good at.

I will miss Chinese-language advertising at English football stadiums. I will miss reminding myself how much free time footballers have by counting the number of new tattoos on their necks. 

Most of all, I will miss us football fans pretending that the game they just watched was incredible, remarkable, unprecedented — when, of course, even the most extraordinary outcomes will happen regularly, given the overload of sport we watch.

I know people are adapting to life without sport. One social media user posted a video of himself playing cricket with his cat, using a ping-pong ball and a cardboard box. Come back in a month, and that cat will have demanded a transfer to a bigger box in a bigger flat and been chastised for posting “ill-advised” comments on Instagram.

Nothing can replace sport but sport itself. One Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly, said football was “much, much more important” than life and death. The current Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, struck a rather different tone last week, even though his team were on the brink of winning the Premier League before the shutdown: “Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all,” he said.

Rightly, Mr Klopp’s view is in the ascendant right now. But after the fire, the forest regrows. We will all be Shankly’s children once more. Looking back, I will not miss this period of respite.

henry.mance@ft.com

Follow Henry Mance myFT and on Twitter

Letters in response to this article:

Rugby League’s history is a lesson in survival / From David Hinchliffe

Outbreaks of flippancy are to be encouraged / From Portia Goldsmith, A doctor who is having trouble sleeping at night, London NW5, UK





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