Friday, June 5, 2009

Why I love Transworld Sport...

Many of my first year undergraduate students are baffled by the time dedicated to considering the concept of 'sport' and its relationship to 'games', 'leisure', 'play', 'recreation' and other concepts. "Of course we know what sport is, we don't need to spend weeks thinking about it" they often lament, as I discuss the notion of conceptual analysis, ostensive definitions, and necessary and sufficient conditions. And unfortunately that's often the response from even the most engaged of students. The others simply shrug their shoulders as if to say, "Why would I care whether something is sport or not?"

There are two prongs of response to such apathy: one, it is an attempt to give some indication of philosophic methods - methods which I fear are severely neglected in many courses on research methods. Definition of terms is crucial in any exegesis of a problem or issue in order to ensure that what you are trying to study is really what you are studying, as well as to ensure that others are clear as to what you are talking about and mean when you use particular concepts.
Two, from a more practical and pragmatic point of view, there are people (who may, in the future, be my former students) who are tasked with the responsibility of deciding whether a particular activity fulfils particular criteria to be allocated funding or a place in an event (such as the Olympic games). Decisions have to be rationalised and justified to other parties (i.e. the public, Governments, the media) and it would simply not be acceptable for such judgements to be made on a whimsical subjective preference.

So where does
Transworld Sport come in to all of this? For those of you that are not familiar with the television programme, it is the broadest and most global sports broadcast that exists. For instance, the programme I was watching today highlighted the sport of sheep shearing in New Zealand and the Columbian target sport of Tejo (where a lead weight is thrown twenty meters into a box of clay in an attempt to explode a small paper triangle filled with gunpowder). That such obscure activities are showcased indicates that the concept of sport has an ethereal and ambiguous quality. How can sheep shearing possibly be a sport when it is simply a means to an end in gathering wool to provide warmth and comfort? When it is regulated, timed and primarily done to discover who is the fastest, fittest, and most skilled in displacing one object (wool) from an other (sheep). When is a recreational game that was labelled 'the devil's game' and banned due to its association with an alcoholic drink, a sport? When those involved practice for hours every day, embed gym sessions into their routines, wear a team uniform in a formal event that is officiated by a governing body.

Transworld Sport is a wonderfully democratic and inclusive sports programme that doesn't pander to the hegemonic Westernised, male and affluent business conception of sport with which we are bombarded on a daily basis in the similarly hegemonic media. Rather, it reveals a conception of sport that is as broad and as deep as human imagination allows a physically skilful activity that is bounded by rules but done for its own sake, to be.


Carl Thomen said...

Transworld Sport is great...they even show the great Gloucester Cheese-Rolling Festival (but that's probably so that parents can show their children what idiots look like bouncing down a hill :-) They also do the best short documentary features (although ESPN Classic also deserves a mention here).

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