Isn’t it time to stop teaching sport to children?

Isn’t it time to stop teaching children sport?

It is drug-addled, corrupt, nationalistic, sectarian, sexist, homophobic and brings out the very worst in people. Why on earth do we presume it is something suitable for children to participate in?

From time to time I am asked to comment on calls from one secularist group or another who want to get rid of religion in schools or who want access to Thought For The Day. Often religion is dismissed as something that children should be protected from. But why don’t the secularists turn their attention to sport if they really want to protect children? Surely 3 minutes of Thought for the Day is considerably less harmful than the privileged access that sport gets to every news broadcast in the world. Sport seems to have become a religion anyway but where is the organised opposition?

There have still been more Anglican bishops in the world who have come out than premier level footballers. The fear that sport can induce in young LGBT people can last a lifetime. For their sake shouldn’t we just say “No” to activities that can cause so much harm?

I want boys and girls to learn that they are equal but I look at men and women’s sporting rewards and despair. What hope is there for girls’ self esteem whilst they are constantly exposed to sport?

The city I live in is blighted by sport centred sectarianism and still the violence is encouraged by co-opting children at a very young age in school. Why do they make football compulsory for boys? Why? How are decent parents supposed to keep their children from such negative and corrupting activities? You have a right to remove your children from religious instruction but not from sport. Oh no,  not from sport.

I can see the point in teaching kids about heath and fitness. I can see the point of putting gyms in secondary schools and I can see the point of teaching all young people how to swim.  But the competitive, money dominated, cess-pit of professional sport is surely the last thing we need to encourage them to believe is a proper activity for adults.


  1. Paul Hutchinson says

    May I suggest an alternative approach?

    Introduce a new sports curriculum in which pupils are expected to know the basic rules of 6 or 7 of the world’s major sports. They might, at higher level, even be expected to know some of the key variations in those sports (League-v-Union; American-Gaelic-Aussie Rules; horse-v-motor…). A school could be permitted to major on one only, provided others are nodded to. Pupils can learn the names of the leading teams; the dates of the main cup finals and tournaments; the parts of the world where one sport is more dominant than another; they can learn simple stories of a handful of inspirational individuals, particularly in relation to the things they did off the sports field. They might, at a higher level, learn about motivational philosophies that are commonly used in some of the sports, and the ethics that each sport espouses in theory, if not in practice. They can learn one-dimensional stories about the origins of those sports, although it would not be appropriate to examine the histories in critical depth. They might also (in some countries) be expected to engage in a daily act of sport, which in reality is usually training in how to sing cheerful songs from the boundary/touch line.
    UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANY PUPIL EVER BE PERMITTED TO PRACTICE THE SPORT. Perhaps from time to time it would be appropriate for a teacher to ask a member of the class about the sport that they choose to practice in their own time, but that will always be done at a respectful distance, and may have the unintended consequence of making the pupil seem just a bit more “other” to the members of the class.
    There are of course additional issues that would have to be negotiated by the school or college in question: when is it right to allow a pupil time off school to attend a sporting event? or; what degree of ‘banter’ about pupils’ interests is allowed to pass before it becomes bullying? or; what depth of engagement with sport outside school is permitted before a pupil is considered a radical sportsman (sic)?
    A school can, of course, choose to teach sport in this way as a subject discipline that is submitted for examination, but the resources will be withdrawn from training specialists, and the subject will be considered ‘soft’ by governments and institutions of higher education.
    Within a generation, a large percentage of the nation would probably have been cured of their unhealthy addiction to sport by this approach, and curriculum time can then be freed up to teach those subjects that the government of the day deems essential for low wage employment.

    Just a thought…

  2. What about small boys who have been football crazy since before they started primary school? It does make for thin, fit, motivated children who care about not letting people down and who take responsibility for themselves and their team-mates – at least, it does for my two grandsons. Perhaps the fact that they don’t live in Glasgow helps…

    BTW – I’d never in a month of Sundays have thought I’d ever find myself saying the above.

  3. Paul Hutchinson says

    Apologies for at least two mis-spellings of “practice”, which should read as “practise”. It’s not one of my normal mistakes, so I wonder if an auto-correct is to blame.

  4. Second attempt to post this: What about small boys who have been football crazy from toddlerhood? They become fit, develop muscle rather than fat, grow aware of their responsibility to their team-mates and by extension to other people and to themselves (like willingly going to bed the night before a match) and seem, to this devoted grandmother at least, to develop into thoughtful and outgoing children who take a real delight in success but learn to deal with failure.

    And I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever say such a thing …

  5. margaret of the sea of galilee says

    I went through this as a New Zealand girl child in the 1960’s…but at least there was some redeeming social value to it; like team cooperation and spirit, accepting referees decisions, going out with the other girls on a Saturday. Not to mention being allowed to get up in the middle of the night for Northern hemisphere matches.
    In my sons’ generation they only learned to criticise the referee and curse him with unrepeatable curses of which they had no idea of the meaning, they were “fans” of Italian teams (what had that to do with them?), they bought expensive jerseys etc which it transpired weren’t even genuine, and spent most of the time following them on tv or internet and swearing and criticising players.
    Whatever values my dear dead Dad preached about heathy minds and healthy bodies, character building, etc are long gone
    Time indeed for a re-think, well written

  6. While I agree there is much about how sport at school needs to be addressed, comparing it to religion is not comparing like with like (even if a humorous analogy is intended). It is not an inherent requirement in sport for example, that gays should be ridiculed or made to feel less worthy. To some forms of religion though, homophobia is part of the package.
    Just saying.

  7. Ruth Gillett says

    I wouldn’t insist on prohibition though – each to their own. Maybe just remove the compulsory aspect? Cycling, swimming, walking, even non competitive running could all be encouraged rather than forced and would be useful, even beneficial.
    The fact that I asked to take an RE A level and extra Latin during PE (hockey) periods said more about my dislike of sports than my interest at the time in religion or classics. I think the choice confused & bemused them – I must have been astute/devious enough to realise that art or music probably wouldn’t have convinced.

  8. David says

    That sport taught in schools is “….drug-addled, corrupt, nationalistic, sectarian, sexist, homophobic…?” I really don’t think so. there may well be, to some degree or another, drug issues besides all the other ‘evils’ mentioned. However, simply because of perceived failings or similary perceived iniquities in the field of professional sport, there is no cogent case for removing it from the school timetable.
    Christians have always participated in sport at professional level – the athlete Eric Lidddle (who refused to run on a Sunday…); George Foreman and Evander Holyfield (boxing); Radamel Falcao (Manchester United striker); Kieron Richardson (Aston Villa) ; Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) to name but a host of believers who have achieved success in their respect sport. Whilst every effort should be made to embrace, in its widest sense, the concept of sportsmanship – and this should be (and so far as I am aware does happen) reinforced within schools, to suggest that teaching sport should be banned is outrageous and pompous in the extreme.
    As for the oft-held argument favoured by more “progressive” educationalists that competitive activities marginalise those who may not quite make the grade – perhaps they should consider life itself. Life is extremely competitive and if children are not taught (as sport does teach them) to cope with discipline, perserverence, self-control and more importantly – failure, how on earth can we prepare them for the world of work and beyond?
    To quote one of the key passions of the organisation Christians in Sport: ” The ability to play sport is an aspect of God’s creation that can be enjoyed for his glory.” And why not? In conclusion, all I can say is I am baffled as to why sport in schools should be vilified to the extent that you call for a complete ban – and on such feeble grounds too.

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