halfacanuck

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June 04, 2004

Sport

Sport is agony, heartache, crushing disappointment. It's sublime, delicious, frantic. Sport is a drug, a euphoric Ecstasy, a numbing Valium, and fans-slash-junkies line up for hours to get a hit. But if sport is a drug, it's an unpredictable one. We know our team might lose, supporters plunged into collective despair, but still we empty our wallets for a seat, we ready our recliner for a night bellowing at the TV. We succumb to a kind of mass masochism.

So why do we do it? Why do we care who gets the most balls through a hoop, the most pucks into a net? Why don't we all believe, like Noam Chomsky and other earnest social revolutionaries, that sport is a distraction designed to "keep the rabble in line", keep the populous concerned with trivialities while the elite gets on with ruling the planet to their advantage? And why do men make up the majority of sport fans?

In fact, that last question also provides the answer. Sport fans are mostly male because sport activates that most masculine of chemicals: testosterone. The intense competition floods the male brain with testosterone and we become like animals, sometimes in a very literal sense. Witness the violence of soccer fans, who leave the stadium hellbent on destruction. One would expect the most violence to be carried out by supporters of the losing team, frustrated by their defeat, but in fact it's the winners who usually causes the most problems. Again, the explanation is testosterone. Success, victory, winning causes more testosterone to be released than losing, and it's testosterone that makes men mad.

Warfare is another predominently male activity, and again testosterone is responsible. The parallels between war and sport are obvious. Sport is war writ small, and the two activities even share a great deal of vocubulary: teams clash against each other, they defend and attack, they battle for control, they fight for the puck. Sport, like war, has its propaganda, its myth, its rousing speeches, its victors and losers, its jingoism and slurs, its rituals and rules. This is never more true than in international competition, when great rivals face each other on the field. "Two World Wars and one World Cup, doo-dah, doo-dah" chant the English soccer fans at their German counterparts, who respond with their own equally irrational provocation.

Maybe Chomsky is right, after all. Maybe sport is a distraction. Perhaps by pouring our aggression into sport, by spending our testosterone on this "trivial" thing, men are less inclined to turn against each other with murder in mind. It would be naive to think that all national differences can or should be played out with balls and pucks instead of blood and iron, but one can't help wonder if Chomsky's call to abandon sport in favour of political activism might be far more dangerous than just letting us play.

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