Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sport and social class or..... (final draught) hockey was designed to keep the upper classes upper, and the lower classes lower.

( but before I get into the topic of this blog, just a reminder that the current events group will meet on Tuesday, April 3 at the Moncton Library.  7 pm to 8 pm. All are welcome.
The topic is "How to wring the truth out of a newspaper - The strange case of the Moncton events centre."  But now back to hockey.)

You'll hear that hockey was invented in Nova Scotia in the nineteenth century. The trouble with that is that you'll find paintings much older than that of Dutch children skating on the ice with curved sticks and a ball. So did the French - calling the curved stick "un hoquet".  Even before that, English kids were playing a similar game called shinty.  (that's why, to this day, a pick-up game of hockey in Canada is called 'shinny'.)

In fact, the origins are even older, much older, than that. They probably go back to the day a caveman cut off an enemy's head, then playfully wacked it along the ice with a dinosaur bone. Virtually all games can be traced back at least thousands of years. That's why historians of sport make it a practice to date a game like hockey or football or baseball to the time it became an organized sport with standardized rules. For hockey, that happened in 1875 at the very upper class Victoria Rink in Montreal.

The rules were drawn heavily from what were then also amateur sports - notably football and lacrosse. In the first game, the players were called halfbacks and fullbacks. Virtually all the players were also lacrosse players in summer. Now, lacrosse was a game in which players frequently held the lacross estick in two hands to push at an opponent. When they did the same with a hockey stick, angry fans would yell, "Hey! That's a lacrosse check."

In the early games, only amateurs were allowed to play. The Stanley Cup was intended to be for the amateur championship of Canada. The Stanley who donated it was Lord Stanley, an aristocrat. The connection of sport, amateurism and aristocracy was not a coincidence. (Incidentally, women were not allowed to play - and that was not a coincidence, either.

Most organized sport in the nineteenth century was played by clubs that wanted only "gentlemen" as members. But the word gentleman had nothing to so with politeness. It had everything to do with personal wealth and social status. The lower classes couldn't afford to play. They couldn't afford the club fees. They couldn't afford to take the time off work. By keeping the clubs for amateurs, the "gentlemanly" class ensured that the lower classes would not be able to play. And the reason was not only snobbishness.

Women, too, were kept out. Oh, they might be allowed on the golf course for an occasional ladies' day. And they might play tennis, but only in full skirts, only lobbing the ball back and forth with, perhaps, some giggling - but no sweating. This, like amateurism, had nothing to do with snobbery - but everything to do with power and leadership.

It was widely believed in the nineteenth century, most of the twentieth, and often still today that organized sport builds leadership. So why push women and the poor to the sidelines? Because they were not going to be leaders Women and workers were to be obedient and to do what they were told. They didn't have leadership qualities (that's why they were women and poor.)

Obviously, it would not do to allow such people to develop the idea they could have leadership. That would lead them to defying those wealthier men whom God had chosen to lead them. (Yes, God got dragged into it.)

It was a common idea, had been for centures, at least, that God had an established order for the world. Those who were wealthy and powerful were wealthy and powerful through God's great plan. Thus the words of the old hymn, "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly AND ORDERED THEIR ESTATE," Allowing the poor and women to play would upset God's ordained order.

So it was that women were simiply banned from playing most organized sport. The poor were kept out by club fees, and by the ban on amateurism. That's why the founders of the Olympics were so adamant about  amateurim in the games. The original idea behind the Olympics was to boost the leadership abilities of the European upper classes in preparation for the great, European war that was obviously looming.

By mid-nineteenth century, many of the leading Protestant churches had accepted the idea that God had intended the rich to be rich - and to be leaders. They called it "muscular Christianity",

And that's why Sir George Williams included athletics in his Bible study group that he called the Young Men's Christian Association. (The religious element remained strong in the YMCA until 1950 or so, then pretty much disappeared.)

Sir George also added a third dimension - the intellect, intelligence.. And that's why the YMCA symbol is a triangle - spirit, mind, body - muscular Christianity plus brains - the three supporting each other. (Body has long since overwhelmed the other two.)

There is another idea linked to it, the amateur detective in fiction. Sherlock Holmes would accept money - but he wasn't a detective simply out to make money. He was from the better class of people. The regular police were of lower class origins. And, oh, they were stupid. For all their training, it was Holmes who solved the mysteries.

It's the same with Miss Marples. Norice they never mention her ever having a job? Of course, not. She, like Holmes. came from the better sort. As a resultl, even though she has no training, (and even though she is a woman) she can solve crimes those lower class police are hopeless on.

There were, and still are, lots of strange ideas about social class and leadership and Christianity and intelligence floating around. But where did they come from? The answer to that helps to explain why some leaders today, both economic and political, have unwarranted ideas about their own superiority over the rest of us mortals.

Part Three

The earliest kings were thugs. They became kings because they were able to gather together gangs of thugs to conquer large areas of land, and make the locals into slaves. Each of the thugs who served under the king would be given his own land holding. There, the first task of the thug would be to build a fortified home called a keep, a sort of small castle. Their he would live with the lesser thugs who served him. It wasn't the fear of invasion that created the keep and its occupants. It was fear of an uprising among the slaves.

The thugs then tarted themselves up with titles like Duke, Earl, Lord, Baron - with lesser titles for lesser thugs - like Sirs. By living off their slaves (serfs), they were able to buy armour and weapons and horses that the serfs could not possible afford, thus protecting themselves against their slaves. They also gained power by serving the king in governing the whole of the country. And that's where the problem began.

However good they had been at gaining power, the aristocrats were often weak in running the business of a nation. But, because they were aristocrats, they became generals, finance ministers, all the officers of state. The result was a series of quite dreadful generals, finance ministers,diplomats.It was made all the more dreadful by their scorn for education - and their reliance on conditioning for thuggery which was manifested through sports like tilting and hunting.

The system had become hopeless by the time of France's king Louis XIV.  He replaced the aristocracy in their control of state affairs with a new class of free men, a middle class of merchants and professionals  that arose in towns. Louis chose them because they were commonly university educated. This was the beginning of the modern civil service. The department leaders in France were called intendants.

Other European countries followed suit. so that the aristocracy began to show signs of decline in both power and income. But that left the head of state, the king, as the leading source of power. And kings of the time were neither well educated nor, as a rule, graced by nature with brains. The British royal family, for example, has been notable for its production of differently advantaged progeny for at least three centuries.

Obviously, the power of the monarchies had to be reduced. In Britain, it was done peacefully  by making the king or queen a symbolic figure. In France and Russia, it was done violence. But it was done, and almost predictable that it would be done. No state run by incompetents could have survived.

The aristocrats were often slow in catching on what had been done to them. The first group to realize it seems to have been those in the army. That's not surprising.

The old ideas of ariscocratic superiority and the right to leadership survived longest in the army. In Britain, for example, the brightest son in the family would be sent into politics or diplomacy. The dullest would be placed as an officer in the army - and perhaps become a general.

The distrust of educaton in the British army was profound well into the twentieth century. When Bernard Montgomery was a lieutenant in the army, his superior officers worried that he read too much and studied too much.

"Monty," said one of them, "if you want to get ahead in the service, I suggest you put those books aside, and work on your cricket batting." That statement summed up a larger truth.

It was almost essential to come from the upper classes to be an officer in the British army. The upper classes believed it was their right to lead, that leadership was bred into them and, as in the days of tilting, it was further developed by the sports they played.

The major upper class sports, the ones that made the upper class superior in leadership, were cricket, football, horsemanship, rowing. Obvously, the common soldiers could not be permitted to play these sports. They were not born to be leaders; and it would be cangerous to allow them to think they could lead. Instead, they were encouraged into the cruder sports appropriate, so it was t hought, to develop muscle rather than brains. Commonly, these were field competitions, almost always not as team players but as individuals.

This was well established by the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, it had spread to the upper middle class who saw themselves, like the aristocracy, as leaders, and leaders as a matter of right. That's why their sports clubs were restricted to the rich. That's why the clubs emphasized team sports. That's why, to this day, most professional football players come from universities.

In the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, universities in North America, were largely for the sons of the rich (and, later, a few of the daughters). Since they were the schools of the rich, universities played the leadership-training games of the rich. The leading one was British football.

It was a game whose rules were not clear. But that didn't matter in Britain where it was played only by an upper class who knew each other, and had been playing the game for generations. In North America, it was different. Here, the new rich didn't know each other. The game had not been played in their families for generations. Here, we needed written rules.

These rules were developed at McGill and, in effect, created a new game which was transmitted to the US - with all its social class connections. That upper class connection remained strong well into the twentieth century. It was formally blessed as an upper class sport by Lord Grey who donated a cup for the AMATEUR championship. (Professionalism would have allowed the working class to get into the game.)

So it was that football became the major university sport, with it's players still developed through the university system.

Hockey, too, was intended to be an upper class sport, to train the better sort of people into character, leadership, etc. The poor were not encouraged to play hockey. It would give them ideas above their station. That's why Lord Stanley donated his cup for the AMATEUR championship.

Alas! Hockey very quickly got out of control and commercialized. With a pay cheque for playing, the poor could get into hockey - and it lost its class associations. Very few hockey players, now or ever, have come up from university ranks.

The last struggles of the upper classes to defend their right to rule were the insistence on amateurism in the Olympics, and the generations of novels celebrating those amateur detectives of upper class origins who regularly outsmart the professional police.

The upper class was no longer an upper class of aristocracy. Or, rather, it was an aristocracy of wealth. It had two requirements. the new ruling class had to be very wealthy, so much so that money was not an issue of daily life at all. The other requirement is that it should not have to deal directly with the common people to make its money.

The Birks family of jewellers, for example, were not quite in the accecptable rank. They were shopkeepers. The wealth had to be both great and appear sort of by miracle and without effort.

Ever notice that Miss Marples does not seem ever to have had a job, but lives without a thought for money, and moves in the highest circles. And she is so much smarter than those stupid people who are the professional police. With her, the old belief in the leadership and intellectual superiority of the upper class comes fully to rest in the commercial world, the new aristocracy.

People don't change much. Those who rose to power a thousand years ago soon believed they had a right to be  in power. This right, once established, could be inherited - and the sense of right continued long after it was clear they had no sense of whatever of how to run the societies they insisted on leading. 

Democracy didn't change that pattern of thinking. It disposed of an old aristocracy. But even as it did so, a new aristocracy of wealth was rising. Like the old aristocracy, the new one came to believe it had a right to lead. It's reasoning is not that it had developed that right through war or sport - but that it had developed it through business success. So it is they keep insisting that business methods should be adopted by governments, by schools, by all institutions.

Like the old aristocracy they do not recognize the reality that they are incompetent to rule. Society is not a business. They know nothing about running a society. Thus the chaos in the US, where a society of vast resources and virtually invlunerable to invasion has been driven into widespread poverty, and is one the edge of  social breaddown.

The concept of the right of the new aristocracy to rule is, like that of the old one, incompatible with democracy. That's why we're drifting to the end of democracy with governments (paid for by the new aristocracy) resorting to massive domestic espionage, imprisonment without trial, and departments of homeland security that are increasingly militarized at aimed at the people of the nation they claim to be protecting.

This new aristocracy, confident in its right to rule and in its social superiority is bent on world conquest. The wars in Africa, for example, have far less to do with the interests of Canadians or American or British or French than they do with the new, international aristocracy of wealth.

But, like the old aristocracies, like the Tsars of Russia and counts of kings of France, they are incompetent to handle the leadership role they claim to  have as a right. It wasn't the voters who caused this economic recession. It's not the voters who have demanded war after war. It's not the voters who have created massive poverty in countries that should be rich. What we have been watching around the world for the past century is the collapse of the great western empires, collapsing because the new aristocracy who claim the right to rule haven't the faintest idea how to carry it out.

History suggests several possibilities of how this will turn out. None of them is attractive. One is that the new aristocracy will destroy itself, and us with it. Another is that its posturing will create widespread revolt - something which is not likely to produce happy results for anybody.

We need to restore democracy. We have to insist that it is the people we elect who will rule - not the wealthy who pay to get their political hacks into office. We need honest and intelligent and independent journalism. We need a population that will wake up, get involved, and make sure that the only people who have a right to rule are the ones we choose.

And time is running short. If we don't act now, we start over again from where we were a thousand years ago. - if there are enough of us left to start over.


  1. I had forgotten all about that one. I designed and taught a course in History of Recreation and Leisure. It turned out to be a far more interesting topic than I had expected, one with all sorts of social implications.