Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The dictionary informs us that a spoilsport is somebody who mars the pleasure of others. Wretched individuals who behave this way are sometimes described as killjoys or wet blankets, and I would imagine that my Aussie compatriots, great lovers of sport, could supply me with further appropriate synonyms.

I experienced my first stirrings of spoilsportsmanship when I was a boy in Grafton. At our high school, there were all sorts of competitions. A few of them were of a scholarly nature (which I often won), but most of these competitions were in sporting domains... between individuals, or school divisions known as "houses", or even between neighboring schools... provided, of course, that they weren't Catholic schools, since our community of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants preferred to avoid communicating with those people. Well, from an early age, I was often struck by the sheer inanity of sporting competitions, matches and championships. I enjoyed fun and games (such as mixed doubles in tennis, where I could observe the girls at close range as they served), and I liked to participate in certain competitive activities such as cycling and rowing. Swimming competitions, too, could be terribly exciting, especially when (as explained by my compatriot Clive James in his Unreliable Memoirs) the girls would get out of the water in their dripping Speedo costumes which, in those days, were made out of transparent skin-clinging textiles. But I could never understand why, in general, we should scream for the victory of one participant in a competition, or one side in a match, rather than another competitor or the other side. After all, weren't they all playing the same game, to the best of their respective abilities?

These days, I often watch competitive sport on TV, but I generally feel that I'm an idiot in doing so. Spending an hour or so following lap after lap of an F1 motor race (as I sometimes do) is surely just as dumb as watching a curling tournament. Or, worse still, a competition in synchronized swimming: no doubt one of the most stupid competitive sports ever imagined.

In a recent article entitled Little gods [display], I mentioned the brilliant writing of Christopher Hitchens (whose Twitter name is hitchbitch). Well, in the Newsweek magazine, Hitchens has just written the ultimate spoilsport article, entitled Fool's Gold [access].

He suggests that "the Olympics and other international competitions breed conflict and bring out the worst in human nature". Personally, I couldn't agree more. It doesn't take much imagination or logical skill, simply a good dose of common sense, to arrive at an obvious corollary. Organized sport is a universal pest to be likened, in its harmful effects, to organized religion.


  1. I grew up in the countryside. Loved it. The kind of childhood Astrid Lindgren wrote about (infact, as a child I was sure I lived in Bullerbü!). We had not TV, my father wouldn't want us to waste any time in front of it, he'd rather send us to bed with each of us (eight) carrying a heavy tome, lexicons or dictionaries. We all were allowed to go watch sky races on TV, at a farmer's house in the village. My parents would watch too. I always loved watching the races, especially the Olymics. It taught me that the world is one big village, one I wanted to go explore one day when I was a grownup. And i did.

  2. In hearing you evoke your childhood à la Astrid Lindgren, with rigorous Nordic overtones, I sudden imagined that you might be providing us with a possible key to a better understanding of the sources of your present-day photographic work. Your images and photographic themes are pervaded by a kind of joyful austerity (or austere joy) bordering on a sense of romantic melancholy. There were certainly various profound forces in your childhood and adolescence that have made you into the sort of individual who would create photos of that kind. One doesn't need to be a psychoanalyst to conclude that you probably didn't spend your time as a child watching junk TV and being taken to Disneyland. You succeed in creating images that are always intensely beautiful and harmonious, but never merely pretty. Yes, there is indeed something Scandinavian in your style as a creator. As for great sporting events on TV, I have to admit that I've always been totally addicted to competitive cycling. But I saw the Hitchens article as a statement that concerns, above all, mindless spectators associated with events such as violent soccer matches. Incidentally, I've been meaning to ask you: Would you happen to be an admirer of Rilke?

  3. I read your answer this morning.

    Thank you for some of the kindest thing anyone ever said about me.

    I understand what kind of poor sportsmanship you were writing about.

  4. Your words are gentle and lovely, but maybe excessive... like your photos.