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What sport tells us about life by Ed Smith

Release date: 13th March, 2008
Publisher: Viking

List Price: £14.99
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What sport tells us about life
By Ed Smith
Viking Publishing price: £8.99, saving 40% on rrp

In the late nineteenth century, Sir Henry Newbolt, the Victorian poet, argued that the spirit in which any game was played was vital for an individual's moral salvation. He took a staunch anti-professional stance and believed that playing any form of sport should not be undertaken for actual or symbolic reward.

Sherlock Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an enthusiastic cricketer, took a similar view, maintaining that the principal reason for playing cricket, or any other sport, was to keep men fit "for the serious duties of life."

It's easy to sneer at attitudes which were of their time, although even in late Victorian England, not everyone agreed with Messrs Newbolt and Doyle.

In 1879, for example, the Athletic News claimed that the "dodges, shifts and evasions, the downright lies and unequivocal frauds that are perpetrated under the cover of the term 'amateur athletic' are a crying disgrace." The early threads which lead to today's 'winning at all costs' mentality would appear to have been evident 130 years ago, which suggests that sport tells us more about life than we may think.

Cricketer Ed Smith's fascinating work is a book for sporting thinkers; he maintains that as a considerable number of people now take sport as seriously as they take anything else, a marked shift in thinking from the Victorian era, then perhaps we should draw upon some of the lessons any number of games teach us. It's a theory which makes enormous sense and is one which is bound to provoke arguments galore.

Smith's theory can be seen in several recent publications. Geoff Thomas's Riding Through the Storm, for example, a story of immense courage, has inspired many others suffering from chronic myeloid leukaemia. Inevitably, Thomas's book is underpinned by constant sporting reference, but it is the willpower and determination developed while playing professional football (in this instance) which convinced Thomas that he had the wherewithal to pull through and defeat the pernicious disease. Would Thomas have been as aware of his limitless courage had he worked in a bank?

Then there is Running Man by Gilbert Tuhabonye, a book with sport at its heart, although it could not be called a sports book in the conventional sense. In this instance, running became the writer's therapy, an understandable focal point of his life following an horrific confrontation with evil

Tuhabonye's is an amazing story; part history, part sport, underwritten by his enormous faith. Most of us will never endure what he had to face, but sport helped him emerge as a fine athlete on the cusp of Olympic qualification. Without his sport, one fears Tuhabonye would have suffered a similar fate to many of his peers.

So what does sport teach us about life? According to Smith, amateurism should not be dismissed as a euphemism for incompetence. Indeed, it could be argued that only if a player possesses a deep, almost amateur love of a particular game can he or she produce something special on the field of play.

Against this theory, Smith spends time examining sport's often crazy economics and concludes that cheating is not always a black-or-white matter. There's plenty of food for thought here and a steady flow of statements designed to provoke a spirited response. If sport is the new religion, then Ed Smith has compiled one of its most important epistles.

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