The Dark Beauty of University Sport

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

‘Serious sport’ quipped George Orwell with customary nonchalance as the Luftwaffe began to ease its aerial assault on Britain, ‘is war minus the shooting … It is bound up with hatred and jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all the rules and sadistic pleasure in unnecessary violence.’

The indomitable Orwell however, typically qualmless and indiscriminate in his criticism, would not live to witness quite how true his words would eventually ring.

Rarely in life has so much hatred been seen in a single expression as in that of Zinedine Zidane swinging round to look at Marco Materazzi, moments before planting his head firmly into the Italian’s chest in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. Scarcely as much jealousy witnessed as during Goran Ivanisevic’s polite applause, watching on as an ecstatic Pete Sampras collected his fifth Wimbledon title – the third time unlucky for the Croatian as he sought desperately to win his first. The boastfulness of whichever continent emerges triumphant after a hard-fought Ryder Cup might be enough to even have Donald Trump wincing in embarrassment. Lance Armstrong or Steven Smith may well be able to say a few words of their own on the regulations in their respective disciplines, while a single YouTube search of ‘Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali 1971’ evidences humanity’s sadist streak.

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And yet, beyond the perennial heartbreak, amidst the chronically raw agony the sporting world so often serves up, there remains something that keeps drawing us back. Bitterly cold nights spent baying on terraces, fingernails dug firmly into palms, in the faint hope that this time victory might finally emerge. Equally, devilishly early mornings spent perfecting the stoically noble pursuit of a new fastest 800 metre time, or a round that will involve no bogeying of dog legs, or ensuring that no sliced backhand will ever find the net again.

Sport, for all its hardships and Orwellian flaws, remains the only drug whose side effects continue to turn those who take it into unwitting houseflies: perpetually, and unknowingly, pulled towards the light. An entirely new and oddly rewarding form of ecstasy. No comedown here, just muscle ache and tiredness.

Credit: MCvec, Pixabay (Public Domain)
Credit: MCvec, Pixabay (Public Domain)

And it’s perhaps only when the naked reality of morning lectures on the far side of campus can no longer be washed down with black coffee that the craving begins. When seminars become little more than a breeding ground for daydreams about 25-yard volleys which nestle snugly into top corners, or outrageous paddle sweeps that fly effortlessly over fine leg, and evenings revolve around trawling Google in an effort to find that one Brian O’Driscoll interview you haven’t watched yet. Whimsically, and inevitably, the addiction has kicked in. Suddenly, the crumpled A5 leaflet you had accepted while hung over from Pchoukball out of politeness at the Bunfight gets moved to the centre of the drawing board, and trips to Stags become less about beer and more about how many games of pool you can fit in before the evening crowds start arriving.

Then in one sweeping, astonishing moment, you realise that you are, in fact, at the centre of life’s own mini-Olympics. Except with more sports, played all year round, on your doorstep. University, it transpires, has its own sporting buffet, all-inclusive, ‘All you can eat’.

While some sports may become cast by the personal wayside (my own foray into the world of fencing lasted less than a fortnight and 3 sessions before realising that sword fighting will perhaps never be for me), discovering new sports at university, or simply continuing a love for tried-and-tested ones, remains among the very highlights of the entire higher educational experience. University life without sport risks becoming a kiss without tongues: passable without being memorable, fine yet hardly overwhelming.

Sport, as Orwell so bullishly insisted nearly 75 years ago, is so often run by life’s most delightful pessimisms. Yet, behind the hatred and the rage and the jealousy, there remains a twisted, unparalleled beauty to the sporting world that continues to draw people back time and again.

In the university experience’s museum, the rich tapestry of sport remains one of the most compelling exhibits. One can’t help but think that if Orwell were to witness the dynamism of sporting life on the south coast in the 21st century, that he might be quietly fascinated. And he would probably ask you how to sign up for a taster session, or two.

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