Spot the sporting myths

October 30, 2008

Reading Robert A. Segal's Off Piste article ("Life and sport: a world apart", October 23) was like sitting through my first-year sociology of sport seminar in week one, "Myths and misconceptions".

Sport is fair? Egalitarian? Builds character? Remains remarkably untainted by drugs and money? Few sports science freshers swallow this idealistic view of sport so completely.

Talent and willpower are more important for sporting success than governments, schools and class background? So Britain's Beijing Olympians were just a bit more talented or tried a bit harder than their predecessors.

I can't imagine a coach of a British team uttering Vince Lombardi's line, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing" (thought to be the words of University of California at Los Angeles coach Henry Russell Sanders)? Try Bill Shankly's rather more eloquent "Some people believe that football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that".

The point is, for those sports scientists whom Segal patronisingly conflates with "gym teachers", this kind of hackneyed simplification is rejected out of hand, more nursery slope than off piste. Given Segal's specialism in the analysis of myths, he should have been equipped to spot these ones.

One would hope for more from a lay preacher - pardon me, professor of religious studies.

Dominic Malcolm, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences Loughborough University.

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