Jesse and Cartia Moore
I did not come here to praise sport, I came here to question it.
I came here to ask whether Jacques Ellul was correct in his analysis of sport. While fellow Frenchman Camus is endearing in his classic comment about sport and its value in teaching us camaraderie, and fraternity; Ellul is not as positive.
“In every conceivable way sport is an extension of the technical spirit. Its mechanisms reach into the individual's innermost life, working a transformation of his body and its motions as a function of technique and not as a function of some traditional end foreign to technique, as, for example, harmony, joy, or the realization of a spiritual good. In sport, as elsewhere, nothing gratuitous is allowed to exist; everything must be useful and must come up to technical expectations.
Sport carries on without deviation the mechanical tradition of furnishing relief and distraction to the worker after he has finished his work proper so that he is at no time independent of one technique or another. In sport the citizen of the technical Society finds the same spirit, criteria, morality, actions, and objectives--in short, all the technical laws and customs-which he encounters in office or factory.” Jacues Ellul The Technological Society (384).
For Ellul, sport is all about Bread and Circuses. Keep the people fed and entertained and they will be malleable, content for the nation to deal with. Every sport is the continued reinforcement of technique for the human body and mind. It is not an Olympian ideal in the classical Greek conception but something else.
“For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for increasing the legionnaire's efficiency. The Roman
conception prevails today.” Ellul (382-383).
Are You Saying Sport Is Bad?
You may want to say that there is a sport that is closer to a harmoniously and freely developed form. And that may be possible. But even a champion darts player has developed their body to the rigour of international darts.
Even a suburban park cricketer like myself has a gym routine that is based on the physical resilience that I require to play the game. I have to get into the gym otherwise I will not have the strength to keep up playing to the level I want to play. Again, efficiency.
What Is Traditional And Not Technique?
One could say dance is one of those traditional forms that has little of nothing to do with technique. Which is plausible, if the people dancing have little connection to the forms and techniques that we are born into. This from of traditional dance is one that is established and dedicated to the telling of a cultures’ stories to foster and maintain the identity of a distinct group of people.
While these traditional dances may have methods and movements they are not focused on the pursuit of higher, better, faster. I am not sure there was an indigenous Baryshnikov though they obviously had and still have those who shine. This is not the same as the lessons and instruction learned by Baryshnikov.
So when you want to watch something that is not technique, or not as much technique. A practice that is very much human and not indoctrinated with the influences of technique, perhaps NITV can help? Perhaps the whirling Dervish is better, or the Gregorian Chant? Maybe listening to traditional music forms. A documentary on the evolution of Hip-hop or Jazz could. But even these have been turned or will be turned and made to fit into our society, into a technique.
How Does This Relate To Sport Other Than Denigrating It?
In the AFL and in Cricket there have issues to do with the game and its structure. The relevancy of Test Cricket and its recent minimised versions, the constant improving conditions for batting. Then there is the fast track development of cricketers as a talented elite. All this in the face of players like Hussey, Rogers, and Voges who were in their late twenties when they began their successful careers. Maybe like Matt Wade there is something to do with experience and not just fostering talent?
In the AFL the battle is set against coaching tactics that have brought scoring down to levels not seen sine the 1930's. The recent rule changes are there to penalise the coaches but that did not halt them for long. Techniques have been developed and will still be developed. The game changes and always will, it has yet to be fully formed. Unlike American Football we have only recently tried to make it uniformly rigid.
These are all techniques. All of them no different to military, political, scientific, financial or corporate techniques. They begin in their way as an open pre-structure that is not fully formed. As people engage and play creatively the rules slowly form and coalesce. Tactics develop from this creativity and eventually into a rigid concrete form. Though not all techniques develop at the same pace.
Despite all of this, each technique is going through these development phases arriving at a solid form. Until a revolution comes to begin the process anew. It occurred with One Day Cricket and Twenty over cricket. It happened in AFL with Pagan's Paddock, with the Flood, with zone defence. Something new will develop. That is the gift of technique. We are just waiting for another idea.
However, this leaves us in the position of passively waiting for that new development. Once again we are restricted within the mechanised form of relief and distraction. I apologise to say that I do not know how to exit this cycle. Because like you, I was brought up in it and know nothing else.
Phillip Hall is currently writing an essay about hope and technology for The University of Divinity. Jacques Ellul's book The Technological Society is core to this essay. Techniques are central to our lives and sport is merely one of them. How we live with technique? Now that is the challenge.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.