Alex Massie

The Idiocy of Sports Nationalism

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Daniel Larison is correct:

This lack of understanding is the crucial part in any tiresome exercise in sports nationalism: “Our manly sport has subtlety and form, and it reflects the true nature of the universe, whereas their stupid children’s game is pointless and boring.”... Europeans can make the same boredom charge against baseball (and they have), we can say it about soccer or cricket (and we have), and no doubt almost everyone outside Canada has said it about curling (but not, I think, about hockey!).

As a teenage curler myself I cannot let it be said that only our Canuck friends appreciate the Roaring Game or, more seriously, that it lacks drama. But the point is well taken nonetheless. It always

surprises

saddens me how partisans of Sport A decry any attention being given to Sport B, let alone their bone-headed insistence that Sport B is no sort of sport at all. Scottish football journalists are amongst the worst for this sort of thing, treating every other sport (apart from golf, but especially rugby) as an absurdity that no sensible person would or even should be interested in.

And Britishers are as guilty as our American cousins. The lively debate in the comments to this post makes it clear that there are plenty of people under the misapprehension that baseball is but a glorified version of rounders. For my part I think any real cricket fan is likely to appreciate baseball if given sufficient opportunity to do so. Equally so should baseball fans be able to appreciate cricket if, again, given time and a helping hand from someone who already loves the game. t the risk of arguing from authority, let me cite Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post's veteran and well-regarded baseball columnist. Boswell had the good fortune to attend the fifth day of the 1984 Lords test between England and the West Indies. The following day - which happened to be July 4th - he made this quasi-treasonous admission:

"I came with an open mind but a suspicion that I would despise the world's slowest team sport... However, instead of coming away a mocker, I now suspect it's lucky for me that I don't live in England. There's a cricket nut trapped somewhere deep inside me; stop me before I become addicted again.

Why wouldn't I get the habit? Cricket is, in many ways, baseball raised to the nth degree. Almost every basic tendency or theme of baseball is mirroried or exaggerated in cricket.... I am titillated by the thought that cricket might be a heightened form of baseball.. If anything, cricket's bowling is even more complex than baseball's pitching, just as cricket's batting is a more encyclopedic sort of acquired skill than hitting a baseball..."

This isn't to argue the superiority of cricket over baseball, merely to observe that they share an awful lot. If forced to choose between them I would pick cricket, but if I could only watch baseball I would not be too grievously deprived. And of course one does not have to choose. One can have both. As I say, I consider cricket a more varied, nuanced game than baseball but in each of them the sense of what might or could be about to happen is a vital component of the appeal. Baseball is, in one sense, a concentrated form of cricket. They are cousins, not competitors. Americans should think of a five day cricket match as being a seven game baseball series. For my part I'd rather spend three hours watching a baseball game than a Twenty20 cricket match.

Similarly, I prefer rugby to American football (in large part because, of course, it's the sport I grew up playing and watching) but that doesn't require one to forsake the gridiron. Indeed I've written about my love of college football and it's one of the things I miss most about living in the United States. (Go Blue!)

All of which is to make a simple point and ask for a tiny merc: could hacks on either side of the Atlantic think twice before indulging in infantile, cliched, witless, tedious "critiques" of the sports enjoyed on the other side of the ocean. Is it really too much to ask that you try and learn something about a sport before dismissing it completely? Silly question. Of course it is. 

Which reminds me: more on baseball as the new season approaches and I have a post on American cricket that needs to be written too. Some time soon...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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