The Times’ chief sportswriter Simon Barnes looks at sport in its entirety and asks why we watch and participate in it.
It’s a funny question – most people would simply retort that they watch F1 or football ‘for fun’. But there are reasons why different people find different sports more satisfying than others.
To an F1 fan who only takes a rare look outside of motor sport into the worlds of athletics or cricket, Barnes’ book offers a refreshing new perspective.
As ever with a book that claims to be about ‘sport’ as a whole, it becomes an exercise in ‘spot the motor sport reference’. Or, rather, spot the F1 reference because, as usual, to the majority of the world, motor racing beyond Formula One simply doesn’t exist.
The book takes the form of short anecdotes and musings on Barnes’ year as chief sportswriter, which events he relished attending, which inspired him, and which left him cold.
He waxes lyrical on all of them and in doing so turns up a mixture of insightful gems of wisdom and baffling pretension. I got heartily sick of the obscure literary references at about 12 pages in.
Barnes is a master writer however – his wit and, above all, passion for his subject won me over.
On occasions he tackles subjects such as sporting greats, rivalries, deaths – all fertile ground for the F1 historian but, sadly, not an area he ventures into all that often.
F1 gets a few mentions and some of them are very entertaining – I thought comparing Michael Schumacher to the Gestapo officer from ‘Allo ‘Allo was inspired.
But, rather like an episode of Family Guy, there’s likely to be a few obscure references in here that will go over your head.
He would probably describe me as a sporting philistine for my disinterest in the likes of cricket and athletics. But there really are rather a lot of the former – and horse racing.
Horse racing is one of those past times that fails to convince me of its sporting merit. Barnes does tackle the question of what constitutes a sport but I thought this section would have been a fascinating point at which to study the motor sport spectrum from its sporting peak (F1) to the less challenging endeavour of ‘gentlemanly racing’ and the ‘more show than sport’ world of NASCAR.
“The Meaning of Sport” is however a stimulating read – even if you hate cricket and your knowledge of the classic texts of ancient civilisations is as poor as mine.