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.