Sports as War
by Kim Petersen
March 11, 2004

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Ice hockey captures both the sublimity of sports and the absurdity as elucidated by the oft-told joke: “I went to the fights last night and a hockey game broke out.”

Hockey-as-a-sport’s reputation is once again tarnished following a brutal retaliatory attack in a game between two top teams: Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. Colorado prevailed in a game that was marred by a “vicious mugging” in which the opposing player was “knocked unconscious when his face struck the ice and lay motionless for several minutes in a pool of blood before departing on a stretcher.”


The player, Colorado rookie Steve Moore suffered “a fractured vertebra in his neck, a broken jaw and a concussion, plus facial cuts and bruises.” He will reportedly be out for the rest of the season.


Vancouver all-star Todd Bertuzzi was immediately suspended indefinitely without pay.


In his essay “The Sporting Spirit” George Orwell wrote, “Nearly all the sports practiced nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win.”


“At the international level,” Orwell found sport to “mimic warfare.”


Evidence for this comes from the epic Hockey Summit between Canada and the USSR in 1976. The upstart USSR quickly took a 3-1-1 lead in the eight-game series when the otherwise highly skilled player Bobby Clarke took a “brutal” swipe at Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov’s injured ankle. Kharmalov was never influential in the remaining games.


Years later Clarke was unrepentant: “If I hadn’t learned to lay on a two-hander once in a while, I’d never have left Flin Flon [a remote town in northern Manitoba province].” It was an unflattering portrayal of Canadian thuggery posing as sportsmanship.


Orwell would not have been surprised. He contended, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”


There is a telling parallel here. In North America the media swarms over the ice gladiators’ story and speculates as to the punishment that will surely be meted out while in Iraq the rules of warfare are disregarded without sanction to, for the most part, corporate media silence.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: kimpetersen@gyxi.dk.


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