Wimbledon & Sport – no Love lost

Posted on: 21 June 2011 by Alexander Hay

Sport is a proxy for our sordid natures

Like most sports, you either need to be drunk or high on tribal xenophobia to 'get' tennis. Masochism, in the British sense, is necessary too, especially if your idea of a good time is willing Elena Beltcha or Andy Murray to win, a sentiment that inspires the cosmos to make sure they go out embarrassingly early.

For the most part, though, it's the domain of Nietzschean foreigners, robbed of their childhoods and morbidly dedicated to winning the same trophy over and over, while journalists who don't know the difference between a tennis ball and a shuttlecock make fun of their accents or their cellulite.

And yet sport is also a proxy for something else, a sort of national identity manifested through physical prowess, or the lack thereof. When England does badly at the World Cup, the supporters are piling in long before the foreign commentators can even manage a sneer.

The English, like the rest of the British, despise weakness, but also those who stand out from the crowd. Multi-millionaire and occasional goal scorer Wayne Rooney therefore gets to feel the full wrath of the warped, embittered English psyche on a regular basis.

Venture north of the border in these fair isles and you'll find denouncing the hilariously inept national team has become every bit as Scottish as Irn Bru and being rude about the English. The Welsh don't moan about their national team simply because the point is moot - they'd rather moan about their rugby players instead.

Elsewhere, sport becomes a huge metaphor to hang national anxieties and obsessions from, a way of defeating inferiority complexes or over-compensating with shows of force.

This points to the real problem about sport. It's a proxy for something else. Watching Andy Murray fail is almost a civic duty, a way of reminding ourselves how far we've fallen (Fred Perry's glory days date back to when we were still a global power) and a desperate clutch-at-straws way of hoping we've not quite shuffled off the main stage yet.

Sport lets us voice our prejudices and insecurities in a way that doesn't leave us open to public opprobrium (even though lots of other people feel the same way), and yet it's also abstract enough from us for it to not entirely matter.

Certainly, combat sports are perhaps a truer depiction of the sublimated bloodlust that sport plays out, but even here, a certain piggy-backing is going on. All the meatheads in the audience bay like it was them in the ring or the octagon, yet without the years of training, dedication and self-discipline.

But if you really want a metaphor for what Wimbledon is, go there and buy some strawberries. At four times the supermarket cost per packet, they reflect a country whose key assets are over-valued and which continues to exist only as an extended confidence trick. No wonder they're praying on Murray Mountain - the only thing that keeps us going out in straight sets is vain hopes and collusion in a truly massive con.

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Alexander Hay

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