What Sports and Reality Shows Reflect About a Nation

Many people deride spectator sports as meaningless, mindless entertainment. They claim these competitions create violence, tribalism, and even worse, sports clichés.

Personally, I think sports are a far, far better form of mindless entertainment than, say, reality TV shows. Scientists have recently proven that, among other things, these programs are the cause of rampant couch potatoism and a phenomenon called “self-induced neuronal termination.” This means that your brain cells don't just die quietly after being exposed to reality TV — they throw themselves, screaming, out your ears and plunge to their death, landing in your bowl of chips.

Sports can also be a good way to learn things about a nation's defining characteristics. I know this because I recently took my British husband out to his first live hockey game to celebrate our anniversary. This alone was telling: apparently, as a Canadian, I thought there was no better way to celebrate love and union than by watching a group of local men bearing sticks and blades beat each other up on the ice.

But it was also educational because he'd taken me out to a football (soccer) game last year in England, and so we were able to compare both the game and the fans. We had several observations:

1. Our children will be forbidden to actually play hockey. First, a hockey player requires no less than $3.2 million worth of equipment — which your average child will grow out of in about two days. Second, we'd like our children to reach the age of eighteen with all of their original teeth and a minimum of reconstructive surgery.

2. Ironically, as a fan you will be warmer attending a hockey game, which involves an ice-covered playing surface, than you will be attending a football game, which involves a grass-covered playing surface. This is because Canadians watch hockey indoors, and Brits watch football outdoors. In the rain.

3. Canadian fans nod and smile politely when the announcer reads out a long list of prohibited activities, which tells them they can't smoke, run around the stands or have more than 28 ounces of beer on their person at any one time. In England, if the announcer reminds British fans they are supposed to remain seated, everyone immediately stands up and shouts rude things about the announcer’s parentage, and other unmentionables.

4. Fans in Canada come armed with team flags and noisemakers, which they only use during breaks in play so as not to distract the players. British fans come armed with rotting vegetables and blunt instruments, which they use on players, officials and other fans at every opportunity.

5. Hockey fans, if they're really, really frustrated with the way the game is going, will sometimes boo the players or the opposing team's supporters. Football fans will sing entire ballads about the opposition and their supporters, which involve the team's parentage, and other unmentionables.

6. The most dangerous position in hockey is that of referee, because he is in danger of being crushed by the players, slashed by their skates, or knocked out by a puck flying at something approaching Mach 1. The most dangerous position in football is that of referee, because he is in danger of being crushed, slashed or knocked out by fans angry with his last call.

7. Hockey arenas have sections to make it easier to find your seat and to get refreshments. Football stadiums have sections to make it easier for police to cordon off and protect away team supporters.

8. Sometimes a British fan will strip naked to “streak” across the field and disrupt play. Most Canadians cringe in horror at the very idea. This is not because they have a higher sense of decorum, but because they have serious fears about which naked bit would get stuck to the ice should they fall.

I'm not sure what conclusions you might reach about the Brits and Canucks from watching their national sports. But I rather think it's better than the conclusion you'd reach about North American culture after watching say, the reality show Fear Factor, which features people eating the eyes of cows. And who knows what else?

To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.

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