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18 December 2008 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY








Care Bears, Lenin and the Pollyanna Syndrome

One of the more curious notions proposed by well meaning folk – let us for the purposes of the argument term them the Care Bears – is that no-one ought ever to feel bad about themselves or to experience any disappointment in life.
Which inclines some of them to oppose sport on the grounds that its essence is that someone or some group of persons must win and the other lose. Where getting rid of sport proves to be impossible, as in schools, some of the said naifs have contrived games in which there is no winner and no loser.
One of Ciara’s teachers when she was younger forced them to play a soccer match under such conditions only to have the children refuse to take part the second time! Even five-year-olds failed to see the point of a competition which had to end in a draw.
However, just to prove that republicans are not immune to the Pollyanna Syndrome there was a brief attempt in the early 1990s to introduce similar rules for games in Portlaoise. Just picture it if you will. Football teams comprised of Tyrone men, Dubs, the odd Kerryman, including a current public representative, and a smattering of sensitive chaps from such PC heartlands as Meath and Monaghan. You can see why Care Bare football never caught on.
Indeed the only time I ever broke limbs playing was in the course of football in the Big House. Once when unceremoniously upended by an unusually robust Louth full back – take a bow Tommy Eccles – and the other when kicked in the hand while holding the ball. Surprisingly enough by a Donegal man. Hard to believe I know.
The Care Bears would not have approved of our approach to sports. Or most other things I suspect. Basketball was if anything even more dangerous than football despite being an allegedly ‘non contact’ sport. On one occasion Eamonn Nolan, suddenly aware that Pat Joe Griffin’s favourite form of tackle was the rabbit punch to the kidneys, offered the doughty Listowel man into the handball alley for what we Dubs term a ‘straightener.’ Pat Joe, a veteran of Cricklewood and the Holloway Road, paused only for a moment. ‘If you’re such a big man why don’t you bring the handball alley over here?’
Anyway my point is that rivalry and competition are good things in sport and indeed are the basis of sport. As they are in most other aspects of human life. There is a view that we are all ‘equals’ but that cannot in all seriousness be applied to sport any more than it can to other areas of human endeavour. I play hurling and I run. Am I therefore the equal of Michael Kavanagh and Usain Bolt?
Equality means that each person is given the same opportunity. So the republican concept of equality disbars any obstacles to that based on race, creed, class or gender. And the republican concept of equality can be applied to sport. Everyone is subject to the same rules. And on that basis there is fair competition and may the best man or woman win.
The Care Bear version of ‘equality’ simply does not work, no more in ‘real’ life than it does on the playing field. And on the brief occasions it was implemented it was either found to be impractical, notably by Lenin in the early stages of the Russian Revolution, or led to unspeakable horrors, as in Kampuchea. Not to mention the corruption and terror involved in attempting to force such a false concept onto the crooked timber of humanity. Behind every Care Bear there is a Big Bad Bear.
Lenin indeed recognised that paying everyone the same wage for example was not only inefficient but actually unfair. That unless there was due regard taken of the skills and talents people had, their experience and other factors that you end up with often ridiculous situations. Lenin even recognised that such a thing as incentive existed. There were situations where people who had positions of seniority in institutions began to resent the fact that people who had just walked in the door were earning the same money. And so the Bolsheviks had to reinstitute differentials which Lenin excused on the grounds of ‘comradely consideration.’!
But I digress! Children who play sport mostly become better people because sport teaches them important life lessons. They learn about their potentialities and they learn about their limitations. About winning and losing and sometimes triumph and disaster and how, to quote Mr. Kipling, to ‘treat those two impostors just the same’.
No-one who has played sport at any level has not experienced defeat on many occasions. Indeed if you take the average participant in any sport, including some who have won the highest honours, most have probably been on the losing side more often than the winning.
Many footballers and hurlers play for an entire career without reaching a final, never mind winning one but it does not stop them playing. Because ultimately it is about more than winning and sometimes you find out more about yourself and others from losing.
Painful experiences are only valueless if you learn nothing from them. Life would be so much duller if no-one won and no-one lost and we were all exactly the same. Just like the little piggies you saw on your TV screens during the pork crisis waiting innocently for the equality of the knife.

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