«Humanization of Sport»


Can sport be «humanized»? For Coubertin, this question is meaningless since, for him, Olympism, which is the quintessence of sport, is the «cult of humanism», meaning the «cult of the existing world». If we depart from the modern concept of humanism, based on the guiding principles of the French Revolution, sport deals with the emancipatory legacy of modern times. Sport is not the symbol of a humanistic civilization; it is rather a form in which the «technical civilization» deals with the objective possibilities of creating a humanistic civilization. Sport is not characterized by humanistic challenges, but by a technical mimesis, technocratic efficiency, functionality and the absolutized principle of quantitatively measurable performance… A sporting body is the symbolic manifestation of the «technical civilization». The «perfect work of the machine» is the mimetic impulse arousing an «esthetic» inspiration in a sportsman. Not only does sport step out of the existing world, it steps out of the living world as well.

Sport is a radical conflict with the ancient ideal of man’s existence, as well as with the humanistic heritage of the Renaissance, Christianity, aristocratic and popular culture and philanthropic and dancing movements. At the time when sport was becoming an institution, it was Tissié who saw in sport a «muscular primitivism» and a conflict with Western humanistic traditions. Sport eliminated all forms of physical culture which were connected with classes, social strata and peoples. By way of the absolutized principle of quantitatively measurable performance the basic forms of a free physical activism, whose purpose as a human activity can only be grasped within the concrete cultures in which they appeared, are reduced to sports events. A leveling took place on the basis of «objectivized» quantitative criteria, which led to their losing the quality of a natural, cultural and individual human expression. Instead of expressing their life force as natural beings, of being representatives of their cultures and manifesting their peculiar human, which means creative (spiritual) powers, people, in the form of «sportsmen», became denaturalized and dehumanized storm troopers of political centers of power and moving billboards of capitalist companies. Victories and records express a degeneration of the original natural, cultural and individual needs and man’s degradation to the tool for fulfiling political ends and material interests. Instead of the triumph of cultures, we are witnessing the triumph of colonial and destructive spirit of the capitalist «internationalism». By the institutionalization of sport, at the end of the XIX century, a repressive institutionalization of citizens’ free (non-working) physical activism took place: sport became a tool for physical and spiritual integration of people into the ruling order. Instead of a free individual, a loyal and usable «citizen» «was obtained»; instead of a class-based integration, a «supraclass» – «national» integration was established; instead of affirming the national cultures, of being a form of the struggle for freedom (of workers, colonized peoples, women) and the development of individual human powers – «free» physical activism in the form of sport becomes a battlefield, where the most powerful capitalist corporations fight between themselves, and a means for conquering the world. Countries which «lag behind» as far as historical development is concerned, have accepted sport as one of the ways of bridging the gap between them and the developed capitalist world and of becoming part of the «modern» civilization. The development of capitalist proprietary relations in villages and disintegration of the traditional social organization; atomization of society according to the principles homo homini lupus and bellum omnium contra omnes; development of trades, industries, commerce and, based on that, growth of towns and working force which had to be controlled after the official working hours; endeavour to «discipline» population in villages and prepare them for industrial work; to homogenize society on national basis (so that the struggle of workers from the field of class struggle can be transferred to the field of the «struggle for national interests» under the patronage of the bourgeoisie in the form of military structures) – all these led to the disappearance of the traditional forms of libertarian (cultural) physical activism and to the development of sport.

The development of capitalism as the order of destruction led to the degeneration of the original spirit of sport, which became a populist circus-like entertainment. Instead of developing faith in the «eternal values of capitalism», sport has become an instrument for suppressing the discontent of the oppressed and for their idiotization. For the leading theorists of sport, like the American sociologist Allen Guttmann, the future of mankind cannot be imagined without sport. It is, in fact, only another way of saying that there is no future without capitalism, which means that capitalism is “the end of history“ (Fukuyama). At the same time, they proclaim sport the most important means in the struggle for a «humane society», meaning the «perfectioning» of capitalism. To try to make sport the most important means for combating drug-abuse, alcoholism, violence and other pathological forms of young people’s behaviour, is as justified as to try to eradicate mosquitoes with atom bombs. Sport is not a product of man’s libertarian and creative practice; it is an institutionalized destructive violence and as such is the production of the ruling relations and values in an immediate form – which are the origin of all evil. It degenerates man by submitting him to the existential interests of the ruling order and by creating an ecocide conscious. Sport adds fuel to the flame of capitalism, which, if it is not extinguished, will turn the world into a completely burned place.

Even among those who are well-aware of the fatal consequences of the development of sport, the prevailing tendency is to separate «professional» and «amateur» sport and thus save sport as a pedagogical method. They do not treat sport as an institutionalized value model which is a concrete historical product and which, in its original form, is the ideology of liberal capitalism, but proclaim it an idealized projection of universal human values and thus the supreme «humanistic» challenge. By doing this, they come close to the views of Coubertin, Baillet-Latour, Diem, Brundage and other fervent champions of «amateur sport» – the most reactionary and militant ideologues of capitalism – who saw in the «moral» values of sport its primary pedagogical significance. It should not be forgotten that Coubertin, who insisted that sport should obtain a religious character (like the ancient religio athletae), called professional sportsmen «circus gladiators» and proclaimed money the «greatest enemy of sport». By the end of his life Coubertin accepted the sports (capitalist) reality and gave to professional sportsmen the dimension which had been reserved only for amateurs. This, however, does not change the essence of his Olympic philosophy, which insists on sport as a (positive) «religion» that is beyond both Christianity and «ethnic» religions, which, according to him, are ranked lower in terms of value than Christianity. Interestingly, at the time of the development of commercialism and professionalization of sport in the West, the ideologues of «real socialism» elevated amateur sport to the highest possible level and turned it into one of the chief ideological means for criticizing the «rotten capitalism». This is one of the main reasons why in the Soviet Union the «morally clean» Coubertin became a mythological figure, in spite of being one of the most militant opponents of socialism and a fanatical champion of fascism. By an ideological hocus-pocus, Coubertin has turned, from a zealous anti-communist into the mascot of «real socialism».

It is only when the destructive tendencies of the development of capitalism are fully understood that we can see the disastrous consequences of dividing sport into a «bad» professional and «good» amateur sport. The upbringing by way of sport involves such a way of thinking that glorifies destruction and renounces the idea of future – which is not only a libertarian, but the basic existential imperative. At the same time, it is the kind of upbringing which turns people into enemies – destroying young people’s hope that a humane world is possible, as well as their need for such a world. The question is, in fact, what existential and value model should be adopted: should we struggle for sport which develops the spirit of destruction and degenerates man or for those forms of physical activism which develop man’s cultural, creative, physical, social and visionary being?

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