Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It turns out that I am a sportsman after all!

Me as a sports guy?  Who woulda thunk that!

But, apparently I am.

You see, it all depends on the definition of "sports."

In the seminar class that I taught last fall, I had students think about how definitions make all the difference.  I assigned them the task of following-up with specific real-world examples of how definitions matter.

They came back with plenty of examples.  How "unemployment" is defined.  About the definition of the legal limit of alcohol in the system when driving.  ...

The students are all way too young for them to be familiar my favorite example ever--Bill Clinton's notorious "it depends on what your definition of is is."  That guy was a master at such linguistic jiu jitsu!  Remember his "I did not inhale"? ;)

Anyway, it should have been obvious to any student even partially awake that these definitions are our own constructs.  There is nothing natural about them.  These are not god-given.   We concoct the definitions and then fight over them.

Which brings me to why I am a sportsman, and how it depends on the definition of "sports."

Ask yourself how you would define sports.  Come on, what is "sports"?

You see where I am going with this?
Though there is proof of sport existing in China and Egypt thousands of years ago, as well as in the original Olympic games in Greece, the concept did not enter the English language until the late middle ages, from the French “desport”, when it meant pleasurable pastimes and activities. Its first usage to mean a game involving physical exercise dates from 1520, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
 Later as sports became more popular, governing bodies emerged to codify their rules. The oldest appears to be the Marylebone Cricket Club, founded in 1787 to revise the laws of cricket which had been drawn up by a group of “noblemen and gentlemen” in 1744. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club turns out not to be that ancient: it was founded in 1754, but didn’t codify the rules of the sport until 1897. The growth of professional sport through the 20th century, and the rise of international competitions like the modern Olympics in 1896, spurred the growth of federations to regulate the regulators. Today there is no single entity that decides what is and isn’t a sport. There are dozens.
There is "no single entity that decides what is and isn’t a sport."

So, how does that make me a sportsman?
 The European Sports Charter and the United Nations both define sports as physical activities that promote physical fitness and mental well-being, which would rule out anything mentally exercising but physically sedentary. The British Charities Act of 2011 is more inclusive: sports are activities “which promote health by involving physical or mental skill or exertion”. But all three are problematic, given the capacity of many of the most popular spectator sports for leaving their participants severely damaged: not just boxing and ultimate fighting, but rugby, American football, and even soccer, which, according to recent evidence, can leave players brain damaged from long years of heading the ball.
Clearly, "physical activities" and I don't belong in the same sentence, right?

So, what if the definition of sports included, ahem, mental activities?  Like, you know, playing bridge? ;)

That's exactly what happened!
Rare is the day that the philosophy of Wittgenstein and a ruling by the European Court of Justice’s advocate general combine to reshape sport. But such a day arrived last Thursday. The case was the latest instalment in a long-running saga in which the English Bridge Union (EBU) has been taking on the bureaucratic apparatus of the British state – including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, various sports councils, and the secretary of state for culture, media and sport. The EBU was attempting to reclaim £631,000 in taxes from which “sports” are exempt. The case started at a tribunal in 2014, and then went through the English courts. Every time, the EBU lost. Then along came Maciej Szpunar. Invoking Wittgenstein, he handed down a ruling that bridge, a card game for four players with a reputation for being popular among the posh and the old, is indeed a sport.
Ok then, it is time for me to play some sports ;)


Ramesh said...

My belly is aching from reading the claim that you are a sportsman. Ha Ha Ha ha.

There is no definition that would enable you to be included as a sportsman. Playing bridge online is not sport. Now, if you sat down with three other good folks and started at 1 NT, then ........

Just kidding. You are a sportsman, because you are a good sport. Except when it comes to Trump :)

Sriram Khé said...

My bid in bridge is always, always, always NO TRUMP ;)

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