In school I hated PE (Physical Education in England). We needn’t go into details, but basically sports classes were, for my flailing, undeveloped being, a particularly cruel type of psychological torture. And it didn’t end in school. Werner summer holidays were spent being forced to compete against a sleek and supple elder German cousin in various physical trials. This left my already harrowed soul begging for release, mainly in the form of commentaries on J. R. R. Tolkien.
But now I love sport. I mean watching it. I can’t wait for Euro 2012 and the Olympics. I’m no brainy pundit – I mainly treat watching sport on TV as a mental laxative – but few things in life give me more pleasure than the glorious triviality of a major international tournament in which nations compete to see who is the best.
But even I, with my physical ineptitude, my lack of knowledge and my essential emotional indifference, can see that sport is more than a game. People invest so much national pride and emotion in sport, so it’s natural that their leaders invest a political stake in it.
The old George Orwell quote, which he wrote in 1945 on the occasion of the Moscow Dynamo football team’s ill-tempered tour of Britain, bears repeating: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play; it is bound up with hatred and jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all the rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words it is war minus the shooting.” That’s why we love it so much. To deny that sport is closely bound up with so many other, bigger, deeper, more primal and more political feelings is to deny the whole point of it.
In fact, there’s no clearer stink of corruption than when a politician says that sport and politics need to be separated. In the last couple of days, that’s a line we’ve heard from people like Vladimir Putin, Sepp Blatter, and, yes, the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose Foreign Ministry said it considered the “politicisation of sporting events to be destructive.” Destructive of its right to lock up opposition leaders. “Separating sport and politics” is a euphemism for “crushing civil freedoms,” and we’ll hear it a lot again when the Olympics come around and various protests are quietly shut down in London. In fact, it says everything you need to know that the IOC has taken this division as its basic motto, because the Olympics is, at its heart, a giant fascist ritual designed to legitimise totalitarian regimes – from Hitler’s Berlin to Soviet Moscow to Wen Jiabao’s Beijing.
Indeed, the man who made the IOC what it is today was a politician – Juan Antonio Samaranch was head of the IOC from 1980 to 2001, and, in his previous job, sports minister in Franco’s fascist Spain. Just sayin’.
That’s why it’s great that the EU Commission has decided to boycott Euro 2012 over the treatment of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who was chucked into prison for having a different policy to her successor.
Angela Merkel, characteristically hedging her bets, said she would decide “at short notice” whether she would go or not. This is because Merkel is like me: she really loves watching football despite being uniquely physically awkward. So it’s kind of unfortunate that all of Germany’s group games are too played in Ukraine. But that’s okay, Angie, you can always come over to my house and watch it on the telly.