Having recently arrived in America on sabbatical from my post in Australia, I have been trying to learn how the natives live. Among other things I have been listening to the radio, and I find this very illuminating.

A sports commentator interested me recently by claiming that in this country over a wide area sport is being ruined by a “win-at-any-price” attitude. He and another announcer began to talk about ice-hockey games in which physical intimidation is a feature of the playing; about a high school coach who had led his basketball team off the court, forfeiting the game rather than risk injury to the players; about golfers who falsify their scores. They gave other examples of “sportsmen” who bent the rules rather than lose.

One of them made the acute observation that people who engage in such tactics are not playing the game they think they are but quite another. Basketball, for example, is a game of grace and beauty with rules devised to bring out play of a certain type. The result is that the gifted athlete finds ample scope for exercising a variety of skills and the spectator for appreciating them. But when a brutal team wins a game by strong physical measures, it has not won a game of basketball so much as destroyed it. It has preferred to destroy the game rather than lose.

We may protest at this. But when we do we are likely to be met with some such retort as, “That’s the way it is today!” We are exhorted to face up to reality.

The complaint of my sporting commentator was that this is precisely what the “win-at-any-price” players and coaches are not doing. They are coming out ahead on the scoreboard by their tactics, but they are not facing up to the reality of what ...

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