Sport as Warfare, and Warfare as Sport



The history of sport goes back some 3,000 years; just about the time when human societies started organized sport, as well as organized warfare.


Sport had always been closely linked to the preparation and training for both hunting and warfare.  Both warfare and sport rely on conflict. Even Chess, that most intellectual of games, is a war game, where both strategy and tactics are used to “capture” the opposing “king”. Even today, we can see the influence of conflict and war in our sporting competitions. Why else would we call competitive rope pulling a “Tug of War”?


Olympic sports have javelin and discus throwing, a relic of ancient pre-gunpowder warfare; and the Olympics itself is descended from the Greek Olympiads, whose games were essentially training competitions, showcasing individual military skills. Even today, most team sports and competitions have military associations, roots and parallels. Boxing is obviously rooted in hand-to-hand conflict.


But if sport has military associations, it is also true that warfare has sporting associations as well.  We often depict sport as “War without Bloodshed”, but we can just as well depict war as “Sport with Blood”. Movies depict warfare as pretty much a game, with the “winner” high fiving and shouting “We’re number one!”


The Romans were the best at melding sport and warfare into life and death spectacles for cheering fans. Fortunately, we’re not there yet, but getting close.  How many soccer games end up with rival fans fighting each other? A  Super Bowl win has the wining fans dancing in the streets with fireworks and other fan-fare; not much different from the celebrations in New York and London at the end of WW2. Maybe soon, an entire war will be televised with commercial breaks and “play-by-play” commentary.  Stay tuned!

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