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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Compulsory competitive sport in schools

The state-funded Team GB is generally perceived to have done exceedingly well at the Olympics. Perhaps hoping to surf on this wave of good vibes and optimism, the government is said to be considering announcing that competitive sports will be made compulsory for children.
The state-funded Team Australia, meanwhile, is generally reckoned to have performed rather poorly at the Olympics. Perhaps hoping to be seen to be doing something about a national ‘problem’, some of their politicians have called for competitive sports to be made compulsory for children.

Two issues, one the exact mirror image of the other, and yet they’ve come up with exactly the same method of ‘solving’ the ‘problem’:

1. Our athletes were brilliant, therefore we need more state activity. We need more compulsion in education.
2. Our athletes were rubbish, therefore we need more state activity. We need more compulsion in education.

For the professional political class, there is simply no problem to which the answer is not: let’s have some more state activity. It’s almost as if they have a vested interest, or something.

Only an idiot would argue that exercise isn’t a good thing, but whenever anyone proposes compulsory activities for children that are deemed to be healthy, wholesome and for their own good, I think we should tread very carefully. It’s not that difficult to take a cynical view of this desire to direct physical education in schools, because history provides numerous examples of governments exploiting exercise and sport for propagandistic purposes.

Let’s be clear about this: Achieving a great tally of gold medals at an Olympic games doesn’t make you a great nation. Several horrible political regimes in the twentieth century (the USSR and East Germany, to name but two) were not only very keen on promoting exercise and fitness, but fetishized their public image -as expressed through the medium of international sport- to the extent that they were prepared to bankroll industrial-scale programmes of drug cheating in order to ensure that their athletes would win more medals and, presumably, reflect further glory upon the nation.

Or maybe I’m reading far too much into all of this. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about the economy, jobs, education and all that boring stuff. Perhaps winning a few gold medals every four years makes everything just peachy.

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