One thing that struck me about the recent Olympic Games was how it grabbed people who professed not to like sport.
Someone else pointed out in a newspaper article that sport has all the drama, narrative and passion of great art. The pattern seems to have been repeated across the summer, with Andy Murray winning tennis tournaments and our cycling team, backed with Sky's cash, showing other sports how you work collectively to achieve great things for the common good.
The idea that you do not like sport in this country often seems to be predicated upon the idea that 'people like me don't like sport'. What people seem to mean by that is that they don't like football.
But from roller derby to archery, more people in the UK seemed to have realised that most sport actually has nothing whatsoever to do with football and its extreme self-regard.
Sport, in fact, reflects human life. It allows us to construct narratives, to identify with causes beyond out daily lives, to feel part of a community with common aims and to share in the glory of achievement.
It allows us to empathise with struggle and sacrifice, as well as feel that there is some kind of higher purpose. Sport provides flawed heroes and appealing villains.
However much Ayn Rand's hatred of kindness and love of selfishness infects society, sport promises something more. Almost every great sporting story involves some measure of human companionship and solidarity.
It also allows us to experience empathy for losers, to share their pain, in a black/white binary moral universe very similar to that used by Hollywood. The big pictures it paints gives it an audience that most artists would struggle to even conceive.
Those who decry sport and write it off as barbarism probably just had
very little aptitude for it as youngsters. Not being naturally good at
something does tend to put people off. These people probably make cheese or do morris dancing or buy antiques in their spare time, things every bit as absurd in a modern society as voluntarily running 26.2 miles.
George Orwell may have termed sport as 'war without the shooting', and perhaps he was right in some senses. But surely if we can turn warfare into something symbolic and metaphorical that is a sign of civilisation?
I'll be exploring the links between sport and literature further on this blog in the future, with some interviews and articles dealing with authors who have consciously used sport in order to provide a wider framework for other concepts and ideas.
In the meantime, here's some art about football...