The great changing room of colour and class

Nasson, Bill (2010-08)

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Reflecting on the issue of winning and losing in a chapter on sport in his 2005 work entitled, The angry island: Hunting the English, the acerbic Scottish writer, A.A. Gill, makes two acute observations, both of which have some bearing on the book under review. The first of these is that, in sport, the lesson to be learnt from the English is that it is comforting to be beaten, for the measure of how well you lose is a moral audit of character. The second is that irrespective of which sport is being played, whether it be tennis, football, rugby or even bridge, the English thing is fairness. Or, rather, it is unfairness with which the English are preoccupied, in the sense that what most provokes resentment is a playing field that is not level; hence, their creation of intricate sporting codes and rules to ensure fairness. As South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament has again illustrated, if sport is a circus of symbol, simile and metaphor, then its greatest – and endlessly repeated – truism is that the playing field is level.

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