There's a defence of sport here by Bhaskar Sunkara against the 'elite disdain' it often encounters amongst progressives. Regular readers of this blog will know that this is just the sort of exercise I myself have undertaken several times. And there's a certain amount I agree with in what Sunkara writes. He refers, for example, to the 'ecstasy so many get from watching sports, a joy that can't be reduced to "false consciousness."' Indeed not. It is, as I've said before, a type of philistinism for those ignorant about sport to overlook the beauties and the excitements it can offer. Sunkara also challenges the dichotomy some people draw between active participation in sport and passive spectating, draw to the detriment of the latter - something they don't seem to do so much with reference to audiences at the ballet or the theatre. And he registers the rights (my term, not his) of play over the pressures of work. All very much to the point.
However, addressing his argument as he is here to progressives, Sunkara begins by conceding too much to progressive wrong-headedness on this subject. Thus, he writes:
None of these is a specifically capitalist value. And there's nothing wrong with four of them anyway. To be sure, competition, empiricism, hierarchy and discipline can all take unhealthy forms; but so can creation, recreation, love, sleeping and an interest in hats - and we don't disparage them. The competitive impulse as displayed in sports can be a perfectly benign thing, prompting individuals to excel; and there are disciplines necessary to most forms of achievement. Even hierarchies can be rationally and functionally justified when they don't allow of arbitrary or capricious authority. Sunkara has himself, duly, to recognize some of this: 'competition in a safe environment', he says, 'can be a positive thing'; and he refers also to the 'discipline and pride of an artisan who hones a skill'. Exactly so.
Modern sport took shape under capitalism and embodies many of its values: competition, empiricism, chauvinism, hierarchy and discipline.
Sport does, to a greater or lesser extent, reflect the wider society of which it is a part. But so does practically everything. Sport doesn't have a special burden to bear or case to answer in this regard. Sport, in fact, is just fine - like reading, or dancing, or education, or going on picnics. Don't let the philistines tell you different.