„Individual Actions“

The theory of sport glorifies „individual actions“ by taking them out of the whole of event and giving them a meaning which is supposed to give sport a „humanist“ aureole. The glorification of „individual actions“ is not the glorification of man, but of the ruling values incarnated in sport. Otherwise, the actions would be understood as man’s hopeless endeavour to assert his humanity in inhuman conditions, and this would be the critical starting point in man’s relation to sport as an institution. „Individuality“ is restricted by rules of the game determined by the nature of sport as show-business. „Individual play“ and „bravuras“ are elements of a directed performance in which „free play“ is but an illusion. Habermas also emphasizes that: „To the extent in which a coach allows his players to perform individual actions, sport has nothing to do with play. What is claimed to be play is actually a professional show on one side with consumers on the other.“ (1) By insisting on the reductionist approach with which the essence of capitalism is ignored, Habermas is not capable of realizing that coaches are only participants in the formation of a playing style the change of which is conditioned by the „spirit of time“ and requirements of the owner of the sports show-business. Coaches are modern slave-drivers being driven themselves by the whip of capital under which they must bend the knee – if they are to stay „in play“. They are the extended hand of club-owners who constantly change the rules of play in order to preserve the attractive character of sports spectacles and fill the sports halls (stadiums), which means to provide TV broadcasts and commercials. The estimated „public taste“, which is conditioned by the ever more impersonal and cruel life, represents the guiding principle of the owners of sports show-business in the creation of new rules which immediately condition the playing style and technique. The coach’s physical appearance, his clownish behaviour, his relation to players – everything is in the service of show-business. It is all about a modern circus, whose répértoire is directed by its owners and in which the coach, as well as players, have their respective roles. The „improvisation“, which Habermas identifies with (free) play, is but a part of the „well done job“ of a professional player (entertainer). Adorno and Horkheimer rightly observe that in sport, just as in all other areas of „mass culture“, there is a tense, purposefull undertaking, and a not so well informed spectator still cannot perceive differences in combinations, the meaning of changes which proceed from arbitrarily set rules. The organisation of the whole life is deprived of content. (2) The „racial quota“ in professional sport in the USA indicates that the rules of sports show-business are conditioned by the logic of profit. Assuming that the largest part of the audience is composed of „white“ people and that they want to see „white“ players so that they should not feel degraded (since sportsmen are a mythological incarnation of the „combative spirit“ on which man’s survival in capitalism is based), the owners of the sports circus must offer a certain number of „white“ players, in spite of their being below the level of skill of Afro-American players – who are their competitors on the sports labour market. This is an obvious example of discarding the principle of „free competition“, which has a direct influence on the quality of play. At the same time, the place of the (main) coach and the ownership of sports show-business have remained, with rare exceptions, the exclusive privilege of „white“ people, which clearly indicates the (racist) character of American „democracy“.

The true nature of „individuality“ in sport is clearly shown if we consider several matches in the same sport in continuity. Then it can be seen that, in fact, we deal with typified „moves“ and „actions“ and that „individuality“ is reduced to variations within a patterned behaviour given by the nature of the concrete sport. A man who does not have a developed esthetic being can only technically „work out“ the play, „cheat“ the opponent and make him a laughing stock, but he cannot realize his playing being. What motivates a professional player is not the „joy of playing“, but a fear of not meeting the expectations of the coach and of losing the place in the team. Existential uncertainty is the force that destroys playing spontaneity. In addition, the „joy of playing“ involves an unquestionable acceptance of the ruling value model which discredits man. Sport is less and less a space showing an opportunity for „personal initiative“, and more and more a space ruled by scientific mind manipulated by political and financial centers of power. The „development of sport“ is immediately conditioned by a further development of science and increasingly deep integration of the „sports engine“ into the capitalist machinery. Instead of being the creator of sports results, man becomes a tool for achieving records; instead of a „will to win“, the main „anthropological“ driving mechanism of capitalism, sport is dominated by a technocratic mind which turns the „breaking of records“ into a „scientific project“. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the quality of the sports play belongs to the shrines of a soulless artistry dominated by a planning mind which demands that everything should prove its meaning and effect. (3) The true winners in sport are capitalist concerns and teams of scientists and doctors who treat sportsmen as experimental rats: a means for experimenting with medicaments and realizing profit.

The so-called „playing sports“, created in the Modern Age, are actually surrogates incarnating in a „pure“ form the basic principles of capitalism: the principle of competition and absolutized principle of the quantitatively measurable performance. This is the basis and framework within which the elements of „sports play“ (such as dribbling, passing the ball…) acquire their meaning. The dynamics of their changes (above all, the rules of play, gladiator’s spirit and mechanized body) is not conditioned by the natural, cultural or individual needs of the actors, but by the capitalist whip which makes from them an attractive show-business. Instead of developing playing capacities and various playing moves, sport is dominated by a technicized destructive power which abolishes the very possibility of playing. In tennis, the service is expected to be so strong that the opponent is incapable of returning the ball; in volleyball, smashes should hit the ball into the floor in such a way that any kind of play becomes impossible; in basketball, the greatest challenge is the dunk-shot; in boxing, the strike should knock the opponent down to the floor;  the development of football has long ceased to involve the development of playing skills and individuality, but the development of stamina, speed, a „system“ of playing with less and less space for imagination and spontaneity… In individual sports, man has become a tool for achieving „top results“; in collective sports, man has become a wheel in the team that seeks to be a „perfect mechanism“. The players are not required to play, but „to do a good job“, which means to successfully accomplish the given task. In ranking the qualities which determine the „value“ of players, coaches put in the first place their readiness to serve to the „team play“ („conception“), which means to unquestionably execute the „coaches’ ideas“. An „obedient“ player who „works hard and thinks little“, is the prototype of a „good guy“. A man who seeks to realize his playing (creative) individuality, which means to have his „own ideas“, is undesirable as he „destroys the play of the team“. At the same time, a sportsman must actively participate in the increasingly merciless destruction of his own organism. Instead of having the conscious of a free individual, fanatical conscious is literally being inserted into a sportsman’s head, driving him into self-destruction for the purpose of achieving the required result. In addition, the „top sportsman“ must be capable of and ready to inflict to his „opponent“ (serious) physical injuries and to kill him, treating the opponent in the same way in which he treats his own body: it has an instrumental and destructive character. The „attractiveness“ of a sports spectacle is not measured (primarily) by the quality of the playing skill, but by the extent to which the drama of life is reproduced measured by the amount of the spilt blood and the number of massacred sportsmen.

Sportsmen’s clownish looks and behaviour are part of the sports show-business, in which the leading role is given to the „black“ players. In basketball, the most prominent in that sense were „Haarlem Globetrotters“, a basketball circus made up of young „black“ players from the poorest New York ghetto, which has become a role model in the contemporary American professional basketball. The image of the „coloured“ people created in sport is meant to justify their humiliating social position. In boxing, with (almost) complete domination of the „coloured“ sportsmen, boxers are not shown as noble fighters, which would be in line with the claim of the bourgeois theorists of sport (above all, Coubertin), that boxing is a „noble art“, but as beasts. Public media show us the picture of a sportsman who looks like a circus performer and, like stars in Hollywood soap-operas, is expected to entertain (depolitize and stupefy) the „masses“. The names of clubs and players’ nicknames have a circus and caricatured note, quite suitable to the ruling values. The extent to which sportsmen are degraded as people in the sports show-business can be seen from the performance of „Chicago Bulls“: they run onto the field imitating the roaring of bulls, the best players appear on posters as bulls with horns, while sports commentators begin TV broadcasts of their games with the following words: „The bulls have run onto the field…“. Special significance is given to the sports equipment. It has become a marketing robe, and the number of one’s „idol“ is a magic sign offering viewers the possibility to identify with their „idol“ and thus acquire some of his „power“. Of course, all that is meant to increase the profit and create compensatory mechanisms for those deprived of their rights: „idols“ are an instrument for creating the illusion that in capitalism everybody can earn money and fame. By becoming a show-business, sports is increasingly dominated by a circus and entertaining movement, which means a skill that does not develop man’s creative powers and enable people to develop their interpersonal relations: its aim is to „entertain“ the audience. It is a controlled „spontaneity“, while the man-circus rider is but one of the tools of the owners of show-business, used for making an „attractive show“. Play is not a free and spontaneous realization of man’s playing abilities, but a well rehearsed technique of behaviour reduced to „working out“ the (entertaining) role of the player. The development of the playing technique in sport is straightforward and corresponds to the combative, progressistic, and ultimately, profiteering logic. A „better“ move is always the one which contributes more to the purpose of play, that is, to the realization of the given end. In sport, man literally becomes a mechanical doll, thus reaching the highest level of dehumanization and denaturalization in capitalist society. Sportsmen have turned from „heroes“ into clowns of capitalism. The truth about sport and sportsmen can be found in books written by retired sportsmen in order to show that sportsmen are human beings and not beasts, clowns or robots. What gives a special dimension to the sports show-business is that sports games, like horse and dog races, have provided a new way of betting. Sportsmen are reduced to impersonal objects of a gambling euphoria, which is one of the most perfidious forms of incorporating the oppressed into the spiritual orbit of capitalism – dominated by the separation of goods from their appropriation and the illusion that „happiness“ is the power determining human life.

Sports skill, which in sports theory and practice is called „sports technique“, does not come from the cultural, but from the technical sphere that appears in the circus robe. Sportsmen are not guided by artistic inspiration, but by a rational pattern of play conditioned by the rules of show-business and based on the logic of war and capitalist productivity. In athletics and other „record-making“ sports, this is a war without the opponent: man „pursues a record“, which symbolizes the capitalist „progress“, and thus becomes his own opponent. Instead of the playing technique being subordinated to man as the universal creative being and instead of offering him a possibility for a specific individual expression, man is, even during the process of acquiring a playing technique, subordinated to the model of play, which means to a particular „playing technique“. In sport, mastering of a technique involves technicization of the body and the relation to it. To master a sports technique involves destruction of a man’s playing individuality and his being reduced to a robotized model of „sportsman“. In „playing sports“, mastering a technique involves a circus-gladiator relation to the body. Man seeks to show his playing individuality, but he does that in such a way which leads to technicized and patterned motions, thus distorting his playing being. In sport, a bodily motion does not express man’s natural or „divine being“; it is a manifestation of the anti-cultural and anti-existential spirit of capitalism. It is not grounded in art, but in the ruling Social Darwinist way of life and the „technical civilization“ based on the absolutized principle of the quantitatively measurable performance. The basis of the sports motion is the industrial mimesis, the logic of industrial modelling, the principle of efficiency and rationality… The technicization of sport has become one of the ways of manipulation and submission of man: playing technique is the form in which the ruling order, by means of natural laws, establishes domination over man. To master a sports technique means suppression and mutilation of man’s original playing, spiritual, rational and physical capacities and his submission to a dehumanized and denaturalized „progress“, which becomes a force majeure the fatal pace of which man can slow down but cannot stop: sport symbolizes the victory of the „technical civilization“ over man. Instead of a (creative) unity of the spirit and body, there is a (repressive) unity of the given ends and a (degenerated) body and psyche. The mastering of a sports technique becomes the development of a dehumanized technique of motion directed towards the development of strength, speed, stamina and the creation of a loyal and usable subject. In sport, the model of motion corresponds to the nature of a concrete sport, which conditions not only the technique of play and rules, but also man’s physical and personal development. Instead of a man who has developed his universal creative powers, we get a „sportsman“ who is reduced to a specific body, motion and skill required by a particular sport. Sports technique is subordinated to a rationally established model of motion dominated by precision, mechanical repetition of movements, coordination, methodicalness, concentration, stamina, self-control, submission to „progress“ the pace of which is measured by quantitative indicators… These are all „positive qualities“ which are to enable man’s complete incorporation into „technical civilization“. The more dominant the principle of performance is, the less playing technique is a playing skill, which means the expression and assertion of human (individual) capacities, and it is increasingly a degeneration and destruction of the human, especially with the early selection.

Unlike the ancient techne, which did not distinguish between nature and man and involved the virtue expressed in an artistic form, sports technique is a capitalist form of gaining control over nature and thus deals with man’s natural being. As the authentic expression of „technical civilization“, sport mutilates man („disciplining“, the principle of „greater effort“, quantification, the absolutized principle of performance, mechanical „learning of movements“ through repetition which becomes the main way of acquiring the appropriate body and killing one’s individuality…) and disables humanization of nature through culture, which is the highest challenge of humanistic pedagogy. Instead of a free bodily movement, which is a humanized natural movement, sport is dominated by a repressive model of movement the nature of which is conditioned by the Social Darwinist and progressistic nature of the ruling order. Sports technique involves a specific space, which is the capitalistically degenerated natural space corresponded by a degenerated body and a degenerated „playing skill“. The dynamics of movement in sport is conditioned by the „life rhythm“ dictated by the dynamics of the capitalist reproduction and it deals with the natural rhythm of movement. The „perfect rhythm of movement“, the highest functional and esthetic challenge, which used to be found in the animal world, now is found in technical processes and the progressistic spirit of capitalism. In this context, extremely important in methodological terms is the distinction made between progress and progressism, which means between the development of science and technique which are to enable the development of a free, spiritually rich personality and interpersonal relations, and the development of science and technique which turns into the destruction of nature, interpersonal relations and man himself. Technicization of sport is not the result of a direct influence of the industrial work on sport, as Plessner, Habermas and Rigauer claim, but of the fact that sport has become the means of the capitalist reproduction and, in that context, of the instrumentalization of science and technique by capitalist concerns and centers of political power. Sports technique becomes a means for turning man’s life energy into a destructive capitalist practice.

Bodily movement is based on the model of behaviour which expresses a certain value (ideological) model, which means that bodily movement is of a symbolic character: it reflects man’s position in the world and his relation to the ruling order. In Christianity, to kneel and kiss a hand (master’s or priest’s) is a symbolic form of man’s essential degradation, while asceticism and torturing of the body are symbolic forms of man’s degradation in existential terms. The aristocratic bodily posture („aristocratic bearing“: stiff posture, protruded shoulders, head leaned backwards…) demonstrates a nobleman’s „superiority“ and it is an estheticized bodily manifestation of the oppressive power. The same applies to „chivalry“, which becomes an idealized form (directed against the working man) of a murderous power. In Renaissance, among the emerging bourgeoisie we see the development of a playing (ludic) movement which is not normatively founded, does not insist on a (given) form and expresses an awakened humanity. It is dominated by man’s self-discovery corresponded by passion, impetuosity, aimlessness, joy of action regardless of consequences, joy of a free physicality, intellectual powers, imagination… Ludic becomes ludicrous, as opposed to the later strictly normative and repressive ludus (Huizinga), and its movement is most akin to the children’s movement. In capitalism, the ruling model of the body and bodily posture demonstrates the progressistic and expansionist nature of the ruling order – having its climax in sport. They deal with libertarian heritage of the popular physical culture, with Rousseau’s pedagogical doctrine and emancipatory intention of the philanthropic and dancing movements, based on man’s right to a free body and free movement. Sports play as a specific model of behaviour requires an appropriate model of movement (motion), body, man – and thus an appropriate pedagogy (obtaining legitimacy of the „universally human“) and appropriate esthetics (obtaining the legitimacy of the „cultural“). Stylization of play is not based on the esthetic, but on the functional principle, which conditions also the modelling of movement. In the sports movement there is no relation of man to the existing world. There is a positive „relation“ to reality whereas the human disappears in the „factual“. In sport, man’s authentic movement is abolished – the movement through which man relates to the world and expresses his peculiarity – and a model of movement is being imposed on him which corresponds to the nature of the ruling order. People become bearers of roles and thus are part of the (given) play. The „quality of play“ is not determined according to the manifestation of a specific human expression, but according to the extent to which the play of the „player“ corresponds to the model of a particular playing role. It is not a „humanization of man“, it is his „disciplining“ achieved by way of technique, man being not only the working power and tool for achieving results (victory, record), but also a source of energy and object of production (raw material). Movements are defined and patterned, and the rhythm of exertion and its intensity are in the service of achieving the given end. Skill has an adaptive and repressive, and not a creative and change-oriented nature. It is reduced to the imitation of imposed dehumanized and denaturalized patterns of behaviour conditioned by a specialist one-sidedness. A „variety of movements“ is achieved through loss of the human. Sport is dominated by a movement which is formally technical and essentially destructive. It takes man out not only from culture but from the living world.

Bodily movement is the creation not only of a certain esthetic and living, but also of a social (class) form. This was the purpose of the ancient physical culture, and this is what Nietzsche insists on, trying, by way of physical movement (aristocratic manners), not only to produce the aristocratic way of life but to turn the „new aristocracy“ into an exclusive organic (class) community. Sport has an anti-social character. It turns man into „opponents“ and society into a „civilized“ menagerie. Horkheimer and Adorno are right: “brotherhood” of sports supporters protects from the true brotherhood. (4) A „sports team“ and „audience“ are pseudo-social groups and as such are forms of capitalistic degeneration of man as a social being. As „play becomes more developed“, so is the sports collective less and less a community of people, and more and more a group of robotized gladiators. Instead of human communication, sportsmen use the „body language“, which is reduced to a conflict between mechanicized beings as advertising billboards of capital.

As far as the argument that sport develops physical abilities, achieves „mastery“ and realizes the „impossible“ is concerned, the question can be raised: why is it not circus skills which represent a challenge, but sports competitions dominated by a denaturalized (technicized, destructive) Social Darwinism? A circus performance requires one to master one’s own body by acquiring specific physical powers, but it does not develop a ruthless combative character and a self-destructive conscious. It is not ruled by the principle of „greater effort“, as is the case in sport, but of the optimum effort. Circus gymnastics requires an early specialization and the creation of a specifically built body capable of performing the given „acts“. The aim is not the victory or record, but to achieve the „impossible“, and thus one’s own personal achievement which involves a perfect control over one’s own body, high concentration… Circus gymnastics is similar to sports gymnastics, which has little significance for Coubertin’s „utilitarian pedagogy“ on which the sports pedagogy is based. It does not calculate the results according to a given model, the aim is rather to have a highly attractive performance which, through hard work, makes possible what „ordinary“ man regards as impossible. Skill is not grounded in culture nor does it make new forms of culture, which means that it does not have an artistic character, but is reduced to the technique of performance, the body being reduced to the instrument for „performing the act“. Circus skill is progressive only in technical terms, as it does not have a libertarian but an entertaining character. The circus demonstrates human powers at a technical level reflecting the characteristic risk of the ruling order: acrobats „play with death“, for example, in triple and quadruple salto mortale. It is a „victory over death“ through letting off the steam of the fear of life, where life itself is the stake and where man faces the spectre of death every day. Circus troupes are international, but it is not visible on the scene: acrobats are „united“ by their technical-entertaining skill, not by the variety of their national cultures. A circus group is based on cooperation and strict division of roles imposed by the „act“ which is to amaze the audience. It is no accident that Coubertin does not depart from circus players when he speaks of courage. Coubertin realized that circus is dominated by the entertaining skill and that in it there is no conflict between people and the development of belligerent conscious – which is the basis of his religio athletae that was to form colonial phalanges which would conquer the world. Similarly, mountaineering, gardening and other ecological activities, kolo and popular physical culture, playing musical instruments, dances, swimming and water plays, skiing and plays in the snow, various forms of children’s play with the ball and other objects, modelling, kite flying, cycling and mastering of other technical devices – all these enable man to develop his creative abilities, but they are all excluded from Coubertin’s (sports) „utilitarian pedagogy“. Only those skills are acceptable which involve a conflict between people and are aimed at a better quantitatively measurable performance. The essence of sports „mastery“ is the production of the ruling relations and values.


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