Friday, February 23, 2007

Black et Bleu - Reemgear

The somewhat crass observation that the French national football squad is jam-packed with second and third generation immigrants - made initially by Jean Marie Le Pen and pointlessly echoed by rent-a-gob Languedoc Regional President Georges FrĂȘche last November *(1) – was the subject of a recent exchange of views on the G.U.*(2) Sportblog.

Perhaps to dignify the aforementioned racists’ dimwitted musings with any kind of a response is a mistake. The salient point is that there appears to be relatively little discrimination – on a race or a class level - within French sport itself.

Sad to say that, much like our culinary skills, the U.K. doesn’t compare too favorably: anyone for envisaging a 'Hussein Hill' anytime soon? Doubtful. Now juxtapose that unlikely image with Yannick Noah’s Davis Cup winning exploits with France, sixteen years ago.

Down in the rural, rugby-obsessed, south west of France, the common man dreams of one day representing his country; and it might just happen. In the UK, however, up until Rugby Union turned professional in 1995 your average England prop may have looked like a Geordie bouncer, but he spoke like Hugh Grant’s butler. These southern-softy’s day jobs often provided an echo of the sport’s public school heritage; there were no miners to my memory. Perhaps it’s a little misleading to reference the class schism in English Rugby, given that northerners have been able to represent Great Britain via Rugby League, but my League playing grandfather would turn in his grave at the thought of Andy Farrell migrating over to “that other code”: a prejudice I always suspected grew out of bitter envy as much as anything else.

The U.S. doesn’t tend to hold up many obvious class barriers in its sports. But they have had their fair share of racial controversies (Baseball’s history of segregation; the paucity of black quarterbacks in American Football’s hall of fame). In Basketball, blacktop courts require relatively little financial investment, and inner-city kids make good use of these facilities. Michael Jordan wannabees are told that a successful career in sports is but a hoop dream and that a decent education should be their priority, but for a lot of poor Black kids there’s about as much chance of making the NBA as there is getting an MBA. Anyhow, what would rather be when you grow up, point guard or neurosurgeon? All of which provides a convenient segue into boxing; the brain-shakin’ craze that is creeping its way back into some UK inner-city schools *(3).

Boxing generally produces polarized opinions. Detractors say we are arming our kids with potentially lethal weapons, and how about those health risks? The yes camp have countered that we are simply giving our kids the discipline – as the Daily Mail might have it – that is sorely lacking at home and in the classroom.

What I’d like to know is; why has nobody thought to introduce a less stereotypically working-class pastime into the sports curriculum? Croquet, for example, could be a huge hit in our comprehensives: the risk being that it might give rise to a whole new set of hoop dreams, or - worse still - a sudden surge in Mallet attacks. Luckily, in our divided society, we’ll probably never know the true dangers of child croquet.

References if needed:





andrewm said...

I'm frantically trying to edit the blog into shape so I don't have time right now to go into the many interesting points you raise, Reemgear, so for now I'll just say that I love the "Hugh Grant's butler" line. Again, this is an article that I think could have provoked fascinating debate on GU.

On the boxing issue, I hope this link works. Knowing my luck today ....

Anonymous said...


That article featured on the Onion is about as honest an assesment as I've ever read!

I used to do a bit myself, and if boxing has taught me anything it's that - at best - you're going to come out with very sore hands.

MotM said...

I liked the Hugh Grant's butler line too, although I don't think it applied to say Gareth Chilcott or Bill Beaumont.

Hussein Hill? Well no British sportsman is more liked than Monty.

Two points about boxing. (i) Can the inflicting of brain damage ever be the designated purpose of a sport? (ii) When your ten year old says, "Daddy, I want to be a boxer?" what do you reply?

I'm not for banning boxing but I am for confronting its problems as a sport.

Enjoyed it - good stuff.

reemgear said...

Cheers MOTM,

I take your point about Monty - but I couldn't fit cricket in! I think the class/race issues vis a vis cricket and football in Britain are a whole other article.

The rugby bit was intended to be a bit flippant (and I'm no expert).

As for boxing, I used to be it's biggest defender - these days I'm not so sure. I thought the reaction to Audley Harrison's defeat the other day - given the way the fight ended - says it all. (I'm not an Audley fan, BTW).

It's an aspect of the sport that (like hunting) is a reflection of our darker side; are we meant to be ironing that side out over the centuries?
Will future generations look back on boxing the way we look back on Gladiator sport?

MotM said...

Reemgear - That looking back on boxing similie bothers me too.

When they show the bouts from the 70s on re-run shows, it really sticks in my craw to see two black or other socially-excluded lads bashing hell out of each other, while fat middle-aged white guys sit eating dinner or smoking cigars in the ringside seats with a brass on their arm . Especially when you know how the money got divvied out.

I still wouldn't ban it - but only because to do so would make matters worse.

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