Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Philosophy of Team Sports

Despite a lifelong ambivalence to team sports, I feel it’s necessary to keep challenging your ideas, fears, likes and dislikes. So it was that I ended up at my first Turkish football game the other day. The result? I took up smoking for one night only. It was either that or kill myself more quickly.

But through the damp plastic seats, fluorescent lights and biting cold I wanted to dig deeper into my phobia. Where did it come from? Why don’t matching scarves and cleverly rhymed chants instil excitement and the burn of patriotism in me?

Did I suffer some team sports related tragedy? Was I hit by a ball at birth? Did my parents lock me in a cinema and play the Football World Cup on repeat for hours on end, Clockwork Orange style?


So then why is it that my eyes glaze over and my soul starts to whither whenever sports come within sight and sound?

To start with, it’s the balls. I just can’t fathom how it can be possible to find the throwing/passing/bouncing/kicking of a ball back and forth interesting. Sure, there’s some variation in the speed, height and power by which it can be moved, but it’s still a ball. Being propelled back and forth. I have more fun on a see-saw.

But more than that, it’s the mentality I find the most difficult to stomach. Sport develops some of the most intense anger, hatred and jealousy. Sure, there’s love there too, but it only lasts as long as one team’s winning and the other’s losing.

Affiliation to a team is rarely based on logical factors such as reasoned judgment about who is the best team, but almost always on inherited or circumstantial factors like who your father supports, where you are from or which team can afford the most talented players.

And so they trudge, the ‘supporters’. Decked in identical colours, with a similar mindset, ready to jump and clap and hug and cry for the team. As they gather, they begin to evoke old songs and chants which reinforce their love and devotion to a group of people they have never met and will never meet.

The team are intrinsically linked and dependent on each other. They are brought together not because of a genuine and mutual love and respect, but for the purpose of working towards the ‘greater good.’ Yes, an individual’s efforts are acknowledged, but it’s always done in the context of the ‘team.’ Sound familiar?

So there we have it: sports involve socialism, nationalism and patriotism. My most detested ‘isms’.

I knew it was more than just the balls.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Back to School (just another brick in the Istan-WALL)

I had my first Turkish lesson today.

It was rather like being teleported back to school days, only without the sadistic P.E. teachers, uniform coloured hair ties and boys calling me "Clown Face" (in reference to my overly rosy cheeks) or 'Tapeworm'' (not in reference to parasitic crawlies in my stomach, but because I ate more than everyone and was still the lankiest, skinniest girl in my class). Hrmm... seems things don't change much...

We don't even have a siren-like bell to startle us back to life. Instead we get Turkish pop music played at full volume until the break is over. There are no lunch ladies to growl at me as they slop processed cheese muck onto my plate, but a wizened old man offers steaming glasses of tea to dazed students.

The lessons are relaxed but packed with information. Turkish is interesting in that the language was completely overhauled by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1928. The founder of the Turkish Republic went about swapping the Arabic script to a Latin one and purging the language of most of its Persian and Arabic words; within a few months it was forbidden to use the old language.

The Turkish of today has no genders and a very logical grammatical structure. It's a designer language of sorts, kind of like the Milton Keynes of linguistics...

Still, that doesn't make it easy. Things like suffixes, pronunciation and vowel harmony are enough to induce a tequila flashback headache. There are so many 'formulas' to master that it's more than a little daunting.

Learning a language is like mathematics with a bit of history, politics, geography and sociology throw in.

And right now I have all the colours of a Rubik's cube whirling around inside my head.