Tag Archives: Sport

Compulsory Sport in Schools? Not as easy as a hop a skip and a jump.

‘Compulsory sport’ that term still gives me nightmares. There was lots of talk about it in today’s media after our disappointing results at the Olympics.

The argument about funding elite athletes for medals, or concentrate our money for schools and grass-root sport has been around ever since the Fraser government created the Australian Institute of Sport.

Of course, in principle, sport is a good thing.  I love watching sport (as anyone who has read this blog would attest) and just three weeks ago I was able to complete a half marathon , it is the ‘compulsory’ thing that evokes in me very unhappy memories.

It is probably very different now.  I went to school in the 70s. A time where being bullied was seen by the school and teachers as ‘character building’. No sharing and caring anti-bullying policies or counseling, you had either become an arsehole yourself, or just suffer in silence.

Sport was seen in the same context.  It started in primary school where because of my height I was earmarked for basketball.  But height is all I had.  Being deprived of ball handling skills ( stop sniggering you at the back) since birth I saw the arrival of the ball towards me with panic, which meant that I would routinely drop the ball.  And there is nothing more pathetic on the court when under the basket recoiling at rebounds protecting your face with your hands because you are afraid of the ball hitting your nose.  I sort of figured out that staying as far away from the ball was my best bet.  I can’t remember what happened at the end. Probably the disgust of my team mates and the protests the teacher in charge would  have received by forcing me on their teams meant that, mercifully, I didn’t need to go anymore.

Going to sporty Australia wasn’t the best career move in this regards. I woke up every Wednesday with dread because of sport day.  I had problems integrating in the school anyway.  This was just amplified with sport.  The only games that I got involved were games of wits, how I could get out of it.  And surprisingly I could.  As the ‘fat kid’ teachers knew that I wasn’t much chop and while the rest were on the field I could be left alone.

The best thing that ever happened was when in year 11, when they included ten pin bowling.  Fuck me dead, I thought, why didn’t they do this before? A ‘sport’ with minimal effort, where you sit down most of the time, was indoors in climate controlled venues and you can muddle your way through. But best of all it had a cafeteria with lollies, chocolate and pies! What more did I want?

But alas this didn’t last long. We moved to Melbourne to a new school, which didn’t muck around with sport, it was Melbourne High. I started to play golf with my father so I chose that. And another stroke of luck (sort of speaking) the golf co-ordinator was my Australian History HSC teacher, and as such he told me many times to go home and study.  And the other good thing was that only another student and I were doing golf, and he didn’t mind my ineptitude. So those golf session actually became a welcome break from the rigors of studying for my HSC.

But overall ‘compulsory sport’ was a awful. And all that stuff about learning to work as a team, helping each other, learning to win and lose was crap for me. Because all I felt was useless, hopeless and unwanted.  My time would have been better used elsewhere.

Of course, as I said before, times change. And I am sure that now sport at school is not seen as always a competitive pursuit.  Children are much more sedentary now. They don’t walk to school as much and their activities are more based on games on portable consoles and computers.  So learning to move, and thinking that is a normal part of life is important.  But that is what should be, a health initiative.  A space where even the ‘fat kid’ is not shamed and derided for his or her lack of co-ordination and sporting ability.  And by all means let’s encourage the kids who are talented and competitive, but children are different. A sport ‘one size fits all’ won’t work.

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Thank you Stephen Fry for writing about us non sporty, sport fans

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

I have always been hopeless at sport.  I was the kid that was picked last at school for teams during PE and when the teacher said “Well Guido, you’ll go to team X then” there was a howl of “oh miss, do WE HAVE TO HAVE HIM?”.  So I gave team sports a wide berth.  A major cause of this was that I was a fat kid/teenager and consequently my body wasn’t that adept in sport skills.

This had two major consequences.  One was that by avoiding sport I became fatter, thus making the likelihood of being in a team or sport even less. The other is that my brain never developed any good ‘eye-hand/foot’ co-ordination.  So even now I am challenged when someone throws me something like a set of keys or an orange (or a ball).  By the time the object is in mid air my hand is either inactive or in a state of panic which inevitably results is the item landing on the floor.  Like the adult illiterate that manages to hide his or hers predicament by avoiding to sign for things etc.  I also avoided having to join in ‘games’ during childrens’ parties and the like.

So I pursued solitary activities that didn’t require hand/foot co-ordination skills such as cycling and running (I ran a Sydney to Surf once).

However I love watching many team sports.  This blog talks about Association Football a lot, but I am also an Australian Football fans (yes despite many fans of  Aussie Rules belittling ‘soccer’ I really like aussie rules, a skillful, fast and athletic game).  Maybe is because watching really skillful players in a team compensate for my absolute lack of ability in that field (similarly when I am enthused by articles about mathematics, another area of my life which I am completely hopeless at).  I can’t wait for the Olympics to come around.  I watch almost everything, the volleyball, the rowing, the fencing)

So it was with great delight that I came across this article by Stephen Fry.  As many fans of Stephen Fry would attest, sport is not the first thing you’d think about him (art, intelligence, charm, humor is).  And I empathise with his dread of sport in his early years.

My love of all kinds of sport surprises nobody more than myself. I do not think there has ever been a schoolboy with such overmastering contempt, fear, dread, loathing, and hatred for “games” – for sport, exercise, gymnastics and physical exertions of all or any kinds. Every day I would wake up with a sick jolt wondering just how I might get out of that day’s compulsory rugby, cricket, hockey, swimming or whatever foul healthy horror was due to be posted on the notice-board that morning. The catalogue of multiple lies, evasions, self-imposed asthma attacks and other examples at what Edwardian school fiction characterised as “lead-swinging”, malingering and “cutting”. All the acts of a cad, a swine, a rotter, an outsider and a beast.


The years passed and I found myself, much to my amazement, falling in love with all sports: most especially, it is true the sports that rude unthinking people will call “boring” in a crass way that is perhaps excusable in a 14 year old, but which is boorish and repellant coming from adults who should know better.

Then Stephen Fry talks about Association Football.

Football. Our national game. The beautiful game. And so on. There’s so much wrong with it. The corporations and holding companies who own the clubs. Their obsession with European silverware. The stinkingly vast sums paid out by broadcasters. The vast gap between the oligarchic haves and the deprived have-nots. I cannot imagine how distressing it must be if you are a Manchester United or Arsenal fan – the need to win, the expectation, the disappointment, the humiliation if you do not.

If you have always found yourself immune to the national obsession with Association Football, I can quite understand it. But all I would say is that, for all that is wrong with it, there can be no keener pleasure than belonging, adhering, following and obsessing with one club: scrabbling for the latest news, checking with terror the tables to see how far they are from relegation and despair.

But Fry makes an inportant point in his article.  The pleasure he derives from the sport is the fact that he supports one of the less fancied teams in England, Norwich City Football Club, a club that has just been promoted in the EPL and is one of the clubs that has no hope of winning it, but its aim will be not to relegate back into the Second Division (the Championship).

It seems from the article that it is not the sport itself, but the links to the City of Norwich that created that interest and bond to the team for Stephen Fry.  And this is a bit like me.  Especially for Association Football where while Melbourne Victory does represent the city where I live, it is the manifestation of a sport that links me to my past and my origin that creates a powerful bond.

So thanks Stephen, all non sporty sport fans salute you!

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