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Padraic P. McGuinness, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 1, 2000, p. 46.

While I have taken very little interest in sport since I was 15, when I took the deliberate decision to refuse any further participation (or avoid it by subterfuge when not permitted to refuse it) it is impossible to totally ignore all the billions of words and years of television and radio time devoted to it.

Avoiding sport at school was almost impossible. But, after active participation and even prizes for running, rowing, football and so on (even that quintessence of boredom, competitive cricket) I found a priest (he used to teach me Latin) at school whose hobby was rose gardening. I volunteered to help him weed the flowerbeds, and was exempted from sport on Wednesday afternoon to do this. After a couple of weeks at the equally detestable chore of gardening I told him that I had been summoned back to sport. Henceforth my Wednesday afternoons were spent indulging blissfully in a solitary vice — reading. Later, at Sydney Boys’ High, I simply refused to turn up to any sporting activity. The school gave in after a struggle.

After school they can’t make you do anything. My interest in sport was confined to bitching about compulsory sports union fees at university — by which the intellectually inclined are forced to pay for the boofy pleasures of the rest — and umpiring at the Push cricket matches, of which the most notable was the women’s cricket match (in 1958 — we were ahead of our time) on St Paul’s oval. This was broken up by irate young fools from St Paul’s College who could not tolerate the idea of women playing cricket — I still have a photo of the advancing thugs, who are now mostly honoured judges, QCs, human rights commissars, medical specialists and so on. My attitude to umpiring had only one undesired effect. The late David Stove, one of Australia’s wittiest as well as most acute philosophers, had a religious approach to cricket, and did not speak to me for many years after I gave also the late George Molnar (the philosopher, not architect) out because he was such a boring batsman, and refused to send Johnny Earls (now a distinguished anthropologist at the Pontifical University in Lima) off for drinking a schooner while fielding.

The central fact about organised sports (there is nothing wrong with a friendly game of cricket or footy in the backyard or local oval) is that most of the participants are mad. This truth has become all too clear in the last year or so of the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics. Possibly the only sane people involved in sports are those who have a purely cynical money-making approach to it. Rupert Murdoch, for example. The debate about full-length swimsuits is quite crazy. It is obvious that any artificial aid to faster swimming is totally contrary to the ideals of the Olympic movement. The only permissible suit for swimming competitively ought to be the birthday suit. If the competitors want to shave off their body hair, or oil their bodies as the original Greek wrestlers did, well and good. But binding down one’s sexual characteristics or cutting them off should be ruled out.

And of course the use of drugs and muscle-building hormones is incompatible with the Games. Since, however, it is clearly impossible to prevent scientific advances in the use of undetectable substances, the only solution is to abandon the Olympics. We know they are crooked — why not just admit it?

It is just as absurd to have Olympic sports which require equipment, animal or mineral. Thus riding, shooting, cycling, rowing or tennis are all incompatible with tests of human skill, endurance or strength, since these can be enhanced artificially and improved by technological means. I suppose much the same is true of beachball, the point of which is the exhibition of attractive female bodies. It should of course be played nude — but then the likelihood of silicon-firmed breasts and other nips and tucks removes the genuinely human element. And anyone who has watched one of those dreadful English naturalist films will shudder at the idea of unclothed beachball.

Until recently I assumed that surfing was a relatively pure area. But having discussed it with some surfers in the light of recent violence (on the face of the reports, I hope that both antagonists are charged with assault and possibly in one case grievous bodily harm) I have discovered that surfers, with the probable exception of a few like the Carroll brothers, are the maddest of the lot. They have a loony kind of Mafia-style culture and rules, enforced by violence, and they prattle endlessly about “respect”, just like Marlon Brando with his mouth full of pebbles.

Again, surfing for pleasure is quite unobjectionable. But when it becomes a matter of mug lair competition, rivalry and “respect” for tribal elders, with territorial claims on common property and exclusions, it seems to me that it ought to be if not illegal at least policed. Like motorbikes, the only people who have a good reason for riding those water jet toys are the police. They could then “drop in” on waves to make sure that none of the thugs was trying to enforce “respect”.

Clyde Packer, Kerry’s elder brother and young Jamie’s uncle, has lived well in California for years as the proprietor of a string of surfing magazines. He is a sane (even if now very sick) man. But those who work for him and those who read the magazines and get off on the photos are clearly not.

The whole area of competitive and spectator sports catering to humanity’s worst instincts and the wealth to be derived from it leads to the worst kind of human behaviour and abuse of the body. About the only kind that might seem exempt is physical exercise in a gym or by way of jogging. But as the entrepreneurs and “personal trainers” of this business have now discovered, they are catering not to health or longevity but to narcissism and self-worship of the worst kind. That’s where their money comes from.

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