This Sporting Life
7 August 2003
It was Frank Dick who first inspired the Campaign for Real Sport.
Frank Dick, for the coders in the audience, is a sports trainer, who recently emerged from retirement to coach Denise Lewis, statuesque British heptathlete and all-round flower of Albion. His major contribution so far has been to defend passionately and vocally the adoption by said statuesque heptathlete of an East German expert on performance improvement whose ideology of performance improvement had according to the world's press previously been ....how to say this... somewhat East German. Fuckloads of drugs, rocket-powered leotards, battery-farmed gymnasts kept in tiny wire cages, the usual.
Anyhow, Frank Dick. Frank has done many things in his prolific and much-decorated life. He has received the OBE for his contribution to British sport. He has coached many of this world's most glittering stars of track and field. And, perhaps most famous of all, he wrote one of the greatest books in the history of the world: Winning.
I have no access to statistics on the sales of Winning; certainly, an awful lot of complimentary copies have been handed out to suits on the receiving end of Frank's motivational speaking. Equally certainly, if one were to attempt to track down and destroy every single copy of Winning by Frank Dick, one would have a very tricky job ahead of oneself. Not that you would, obviously, since it is such a good book. Right now, my liver is bleeding just because it is struggling to cope with sharing a universe with a book as monumentally, fantastically good as Winning. By Frank Dick. OBE.
Among the many inspiring and motivating anecdotes contained within Winning, we hear about his time as the trainer of such household names as Daley Thompson, Steve Ovett and Gerhard Berger. No disrespect to Frank, but it occurred to me then that there is a fairly steep shelf operating here. Daley Thompson has a definite case to plead for being the most generally skilled athlete of his generation. Steve Ovett, were you to ask him to pop down the shops for a packet of chips and a pork chop, would be able to do it in an absolute trice.
Gerhard Berger was a Formula One driver. Essentially, his job involved sitting down and not dying. How do you coach that?
Gerhard, I'm going to go to the shops to get some pie. In the meantime, I want you to sit there and not die. You can watch TV if you like, as long as you don't die. If you're alive when I get back, we'll put it in the win column, and you can have a special didn't-die pie. Steve, I'm off to the shops. Fancy a jog? Oh, you've gone.
Which got me thinking...if you are basically sitting down and not dying, can what you are practising strictly speaking be defined as a sport, or is it no more than the sedentary avoidance of the surcease of life? It's all very well to describe your practice as an entertainment, at least when the seats are propelled through unexpected rotations and/or walls of tyres. But a sport? Bollocks to that. You're driving. People do it in car parks and ring roads across our great nation, and they have to deal with reversing over children and dodging windscreen-cleaners as well. Essentially, Michael Schumacher is doing something utterly ordinary, albeit much faster. Is speed wanking a sport? Not in my Olympic village.
By the same token, boxing is a transposition of a noble pursuit of post-pub Britain into an artificial environment of padded gloves and gumshields.
Of course, once you start going down this road it's very hard to put the brakes on, hence the Campaign for Real Sport, which I hope the Campaign for Real Ale is going to go easier on legally than the earlier and controversial Campaign for Real Anal.
It's simple. Each "sport" is considered on its merits, in a sick kangaroo court perhaps ruled over by a whooping gang of transvestites in, if such a thing there be, rubber Frank Dick masks. If not, cosmetic surgery will be required.
Many "sports" will be rejected because they are in fact just ways to keep fit. That will cover off all forms of athletics, except running, which will join rowing, skiing, ice-skating and cycling as essentially not sports but ways to commute if Gerhard Berger has nicked your car to practise not dying in. Others will be identified as primarily social phenomena. Cricket is a means for people to meet, have a drink together and enjoy light conversation; the process of dispatching and retrieving the ball is little more than a tedious diversion for players and audience alike.
Note. A very good way to determine whether something is a real sport is if you can still do it even if you are quite clearly hideously unfit. Aerobics, darts, cricket...these are all ways for people to stay socially and to a limited extent physically active. The British Legion with pads and points, adding padding and pointage to a largely padless and pointless life.
Most viciously expunged will, of course, be pastimes that are far too fucking stupid to be acceptable as either sports or hobbies - anything involving concrete pipes or safety helmets. Also failing to make the cut for similar reasons will be any entertainment involving the same basic equipment as another, but smaller or more shit. Miniature golf will be an obvious casualty here, along with table tennis and badminton, which anyone with any self-respect should shun in any and every case. Also, strike from your memories squash and any other competitive exercise involving those involved competing against each other but facing in the same direction; outside the bedroom that is just perverse, and if similar hunnish techniques had been developed in war then nobody would ever get anywhere except Flanders.
All this will leave us with a handful of sports that can truly and proudly hold up their Campaign for Real Sport accreditation, and avoid the inevitable harassment of an overexcited gang of Frank Dick trannies. To be honest, I'm struggling to think of any candidates apart from football. Football involves specialised skills with no other purpose whatsoever, and requires high levels of fitness from practitioners and focus from players, also, and tellingly, it was not allowed at my school, which as a hotbed on non-sport must by definition seem suspect. Then again, I'm not a court of burly men in stockings, suspenders and Frank Dick masks.
Not yet. Not during working hours.