Much to the consternation of broadcasters, some of whom have bet the farm on fans’ willingness to pay gradually escalating monthly subscriptions in order to watch the self-styled ‘most exciting league in the world’, there’s an increasing volume of evidence to suggest that the number of people watching Champions League and Premier League football ‘live’ on television is plummeting.
Yet while televised football’s popularity has waned, so other sports have attracted new participants; cycling, swimming and rugby union are three recent examples. Indeed sport, claims Matthew Syed in his latest book, encroaches more than ever into our daily lives – consider, for instance, the amount of space dedicated to it in your newspaper and the frequency with which a sports-related story makes front-page news.
Syed asks why this should be the case; after all, sport is “superficially frivolous”, yet in answering his own question, he hits the nail on the head. Sport, he declares, is “underpinned by themes basic to the nature of the human condition: heroism, drama, competition, hierarchy, psychology, morality and, perhaps most important of all, the quest for greatness.” This, he maintains, is why sport and our love of it, has grown despite scandals at FIFA, the IOC and a host of other governing bodies.
Nor is this a modern phenomenon; sport has gripped the attention of people since the time of the ancient Greeks 1,200 years ago and it continues to do so. The competition between a supremely talented quartet of tennis players, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray not only holds spectators’ attention, it “spurs innovation” as the competitors “dare each other to greater heights,” says Syed.
This is another thought-provoking tome (actually, it’s an edited collection of articles which first appeared in The Times) from a man who is building an impressive portfolio of sport-related titles. As someone who competed at two Olympics, Syed is well qualified to explore sport’s mental side and to explain why the hardships suffered by player X or team Y played a part in making them their chosen sport’s greatest exponents.
Sports, says Syed, is trivial, but it’s also profound. He’s right, which is why his ‘edited highlights’ from more than two million words are such a compelling read.