This is something I've sent to 'The Australian'our only national weekly, for their 'This Life' column.
This (Non-sporting) Life
If they had known, they would never have granted me Australian citizenship. But I cannot hide it any longer: I hate competitive sport; I hate to watch it, and I hate to participate in it. It has always puzzled me why others care about it so much, which makes me feel like the small boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, being the only one who sees or admits that the reality is vastly different from the hype.
But now the truth is coming out; more people are realising that what is in front of their eyes, or on the TV is not really what they think they are seeing. It may be a pharmaceutically enhanced version of sporting reality, or a manifestation of a bookmaker’s agreement, or it may be genuine competition. They simply have no way of knowing.
My attitude is not new though; it dates from long before drugs in sport was an issue. It even dates from before John McEnroe made toddler tantrums part of the tennis scene.
It dates from my years at Heckmondwike Grammar School in Yorkshire, where I was a happy school kid, glad to have passed my 11+ and achieved a place in that state school, with no bullies, no snobs, and mainly excellent, caring teachers.
But not all. Not the PE mistress, whose name escapes me in Freudian forgetfulness. Sports lessons were a study in psychological, and occasionally physical, torture. We had to play hockey in the freezing fog, netball in the rain, sometimes watched by leering boys hoping our PE clothes would become transparent when wet, and rounders on the playing fields, where I found it utterly ridiculous that we were expected to hit a small ball with a narrow stick. I never failed to miss. Other kids screamed at me when fielding, because boredom set me off day dreaming, so I never noticed the ball. Not that I would have been able to catch it anyway. We also had to run, climb ropes, and jump over things in the gym. It all tended to hurt.
The PE mistress had her hatreds, with me at the top of the list. She was hostile, sarcastic, and often utterly furious, not only because I failed to achieve anything, but because I clearly didn’t care. To make matters worse, I looked athletic, as I cycled a lot, and did Judo. I did not regard these activities as sport: I never considered doing any cycle racing, and only did Judo because I fancied a boy who went to the same club. As it turned out, judo trained me to fall painlessly, which was great for cycling as I was inclined to fall off from time to time.
My indifference to her subject turned the PE mistress from a vaguely hostile presence to the creature from the depths of hell. The kindest thing she ever said to me was that I was the most uncoordinated creature she had ever had the misfortune to try to teach. I took it as a compliment. She seethed.
There is a dark side to my sporting problem, and in a way, it ruined my working life. At sixteen I had the option to leave school or stay on for 2 more years and do the exams that would lead to university. My parents insisted I leave: I would have fought their decision tooth and nail, but the knowledge that the twice-weekly torture would stop, softened my opposition. I left, ending up in the civil service; well paid work but not really inspiring.
I have had a good life, married a gorgeous sailor and we now have two adult sons. Finally making it to university in my late fifties, I graduated with honours at the age of sixty two.
I loved campus life: it had everything: great teachers, interesting subjects, a wonderful library, good company, and for me, NO SPORT.