‘Sport is the entire trajectory separating a combat from a riot.’
I have always been a fan of Roland Barthes’s writings. He has a wonderful French combination of erudition, humour and insight. One of his least known texts is What is Sport? commissioned for a documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The text was originally planned for Mythologies (1957) but was omitted and it was not included in the Seuil five-volume edition of his complete works.
Barthes (1915-1980) looks at five national sports: soccer (Britain), hockey (Canada), bullfighting (Spain), cycling (France) and car racing (America). He regards all these sports as exemplifying ‘victory over ignorance, fear, necessity.’
As always, Barthes’s text is compelling. The translation by Richard Howard is superb – writing of cycling, Barthes shows how much he really knows about sport. ‘The racer sets out, alone; he will ride fast as possible every second, as if there were nothing in the world but time and himself. He never feels his victory.’
What is Sport?
Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007