‘Sport is physical exercise with arbitrary, self-imposed, absurd handicaps,’ wrote Hugo Brandt Corstius. And that’s true. Constraints that the voluntarily handicapped immediately do their utmost to overcome – within the rules, of course, but more often in contravention to them. Forbidden fruit, deals and drugs are as old as sport itself, if not older.
Sport is a wonderful, unambiguous world, in which white and black always defeat grey. A staged battle with just one true winner and a great many losers. Just like the Roman arena, which was also popular entertainment through and through. Thumb’s up, thumb’s down, with death as the final whistle.
Sport is popular thanks to the contrast with the fans’ lives. A chattering, open-plan office full of nuance, where one is hard-pressed to discover anything approaching the glorious. Not the clarity of the field, the track or the ring, but the average ordinariness of the modern housing estate. Nothing wrong with that – that’s what life is – but clearly the fans want more.
Increasingly, the fans themselves are looking for a battle. Or rather, they are creating one: cursing rather than supporting. For/against. Making a stand, preferably anonymously. He who thinks of Black Pete with nostalgia is a racist, while he who thinks the smiling servant has had his day is a traitor. Like the swarms of idiotic fans running along the cyclists on the Alpe d’Huez, yelling their way to fifteen seconds of fame.
This yearning for polarisation is clearly reflected in politics. Give the people what they want, bread and circuses. Give them the image of decisiveness, the idea of strong leadership and the illusion of rapid solutions with no drawbacks. Like sprinters on the starting block. Come across as invincible, that is what draws voters. Fuck the facts, we want heroes.
Exaggerate a little here, take something out of context there; or simply a completely incorrect version of the facts, without any shame. Facts so distorted that even their own mother would not recognise them. And the reward is not derision or mockery, but something more valuable than gold, frankincense and myrrh put together: media attention.
In the United States, research shows that of all the candidates, the person who tells the most ‘inaccuracies’ has a great chance of becoming president. In 4.6 hours of speeches and conferences, that is one inaccuracy every 5 minutes. Republicans think he is their dream leader. As though Lance Armstrong had injected himself ostentatiously with EPO on the start line, in front of the cameras.
When lies defeat truth, when ‘facts’ without any substantiation can live a productive, fruitful life, the guardians of reason and truth hang back in a doped-up peloton. Forget the winner’s stage or an honourable mention; all that remains is to wait for better times. A tip: do not hold your breath as you wait, as it might yet be a while.