Will sport & competitive games exist in socialism?

April 2024 Forums General discussion Will sport & competitive games exist in socialism?

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    This has been in the back of my mind for a while. It was PB’s article on the commonwealth games in the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard, and the discussion in the forum-topic titled: ‘Geordie Logic’, that’s made me bring it up.

    On the one hand, it’s very hard to imagine a world without sport & competitive games, but on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a socialist society with them.

    What are your thoughts on the matter?

    Bijou Drains

    Personally I cannot see why it would be hard to imagine a socialist society which has competitive sports and games as part of society.

    In terms of games, I play bridge at a local club which has run for years with its own premises and works on a completely voluntary basis, no one gets paid, all of the work gets done, there are no leaders, unless you think the Club Secretary (elected annually) is a leader. To me it is an example of how Socialism could work compeltely smoothly and efficiently. There are loads of Bowls clubs, Tennis clubs, football and rugby teams, youth groups, etc. around the areas that operate on exactly the same way.

    Another example of how sport might be organised in a Socialist Society would be to model the way that the Gaelic Athletic Association (The GAA) works. Basically you play for the club local to where you live (more or less and there are exceptions) the local Clubs are organised on a county basis. The winner of the county chapiionship progresses to the provincial championships (Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht) the four winners go into semi finals and finals and the winner is the All Ireland Senior Club Champions.

    At the same time each county picks a team from all of their county clubs and that team represents the county in the all Ireland County championship.

    The GAA is nominally amateur and most local clubs are based on volunteers to function, just like the vast majority of local soccer/cricket/rugby teams are in the UK.

    I can’t see any reason why all of the sports we enjoy cannot be adapted to fit in with a socialist society, perhaps Formula 1 might struggle (although why anybody wants to watch is effectively traffic beats me anyway)


    ‘On the one hand, it’s very hard to imagine a world without sport & competitive games, but on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a socialist society with them.’ What I mean by this is games are fun, but will anyone care about being the winner when we live in a society based on co-operation instead of competition?

    Violent sports such as rugby & boxing almost definitely won’t exist in socialism. It’s hard to imagine trophies existing in socialism because some people would like to steal them, so they would have to be guarded, so we’re talking about security guards in a socialist society (which doesn’t sound right).

    I’m a casual football fan, but it’s hard to imagine socialist football where the fans don’t give the referee & linesmen/women a hard time, and fans of arch-rival teams (e.g. Celtic & Rangers) are nice to each other.


    Given some people pay to play rugby and boxing now, I think they will continue to exist in some form. Sport answers a need, I’ve heard the stories of the Cumbrian miners coming straight from the pit unwashed to play rugby because they needed that excitement and exercise. What capitalism did is it took popular sport, codified it and regulated it and then commercialised it, given back to the people it can be a beautiful thing.

    (Also, I’ll dispute rugby is violent, physical, yes, but violent, no: and boxing is all about not being hit).


    Arguably, with concerns about the effects of heading in football and suchlike, and clampdowns on ‘professional’ fouls, sport is becoming less violent even in capitalism. But it has many nasty sides, all a result of its ultra-competitive nature, due to the expectation of profits.
    Women’s football has been a breath of fresh air but as it gets milked more and more it will become as cynical and nasty as the men’s game can be.
    I think people do have a natural competitiveness, some more than others, and like to pit their skills against one another. In socialism, sport and other games would probably be an ideal outlet. And there’s bound to be the odd fracas in the heat of the moment.
    But no VAR please. Or offside.


    I can’t believe socialists are defending rugby & boxing! You’d get an immediate red card (& be booed off the pitch) if you did any rugby moves in football. As for boxing, Muhammad Ali couldn’t speak for the last years of his life due to being so brain-damaged.

    ‘Or offside.’

    My knee-jerk reaction to that was: you can’t get rid of the off-side rule! But, actually, it would mean a lot more goals, so that’s a good idea. VAR is good (as long as it ONLY benefits the teams I support). 😉


    Absent the coercion of poverty, people in socialism would be free to choose to box: and many do box without leading to Parkinsons.

    You’d get penalties for many of the moves of soccer when playing rugby (last time I played soccer, I had to restrain myself from shouting offside every time someone passed to a player in front of them).

    Try some of the marvellous tricks of AFL in a soccer match: they literally are different ball games. They’ve banned the shoulder charge and the spear tackle in rugby, so it is very unviolent. I mean, even MMA has stopped kicking the head on the floor (which I did find disgraceful). The point of sport is the rules constrain what can be done.

    The rules of soccer partially came about because one public school didn’t have a proper playing field and so had to modify their football code to avoid hitting the floor.

    Now, where is my ticket for the chess boxing match…


    I’ve always thought that sport is the only relevant place for infantile competition – and we all like to be kids once and a while.


    We should not create a blueprint of the future society, and Marx never did. Baseball was a sport practiced by the Tainos and it was not based on competition, it was some kind of entertainment


    I agree we can’t create a blueprint but it doesn’t mean we can’t speculate in threads like this.
    I think there will be a huge difference in sporting and other behaviours between early socialist society (maybe the first generation or two, or maybe just the first few years, when a load of baggage will have been inherited), and a more developed, confident society where more people are born into it and the hangovers from the past are largely forgotten.
    The first generation of people to be born into a socialist society will have a totally different outlook on life.

    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by rodshaw.

    “Batéy was the name given to a special plaza around which the Caribbean Taino built their settlements. It was usually a rectangular area surrounded by stones with carved symbols (petroglyphs).

    “The batey was the area in which batey events (e.g. ceremonies, the ball game, etc.) took place. The batey ceremony (also known as batu) can be viewed from some historical accounts as more of a judicial contest rather than a game. Because historical accounts of the game and court space come from (mostly Spanish) European explorers, the true nature, history, and function of the batey is still contested. Neighbouring tribes may have used batey matches to resolve differences without warfare.” SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batey_(game)


    I will not trust the black board known as Wikipedia because Batey was also the name given to the poor neighborhood. and it was the name of the company towns where the corporation kept the sugar cane workers living in extreme poverty and practically they never paid any salary, and workers were always in debts with the grocery stores established by the owners of the corporations, and also that history wants to indicate that they had a judicial system controlled by chief wrong called Caciques, and that they had wars among each others. Marrero Aristy was killed because he wrote a book about the condition of the workers living in the Batey and the name of the book is Over. Baseball was a pastime of the Taino’s and then the Gringos turned into a business. The europeans historian ( including Padre de las casas ) have always tried to change the real history of the natives of the Americas to justify their massacres


    Yes I think we will have competitive games in a socialist society- of course we will. It’s fun to compete and acknowledge a winner. I don’t know why anyone would think that socialism means ending all our fun.


    “I don’t know why anyone would think that socialism means ending all our fun.”

    Too many Partick Thistle fans in the Party.


    A socialist over on Facebook suggested this article from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard as a contribution to the thread.

    Sport and the Spirit of Capitalism


    Today the scandal in professional cycling is doping: a hundred years ago it was racism.

    Traditionally, things have tended to be difficult for the American athlete who happens also to be black. Jesse Owens, snubbed by his own President, had to travel to the 1936 Berlin Olympiad for the “warmest ovation of his life” – and a friendly wave from the Fuhrer himself – whilst a young Cassius Clay, disgusted by his homecoming reception some 24 years later, reportedly consigned his Rome Olympic Gold to the muddy depths of the Ohio. Practically unknown today, although in his time as famous as Owens or Clay, is cyclist Major Taylor. Why?

    In the couple of decades straddling the turn of the twentieth century, cycling was as hugely popular in the USA as baseball or boxing. Before the arrival of the motor car and aeroplane, it was effectively the world’s fastest sport with its own galaxy of highly-paid superstars, drawn mainly from the ‘artisan classes’. However, as the century progressed this popularity steadily diminished until, by the outbreak of World War Two, it had sunk into almost total oblivion; its traditions and gladiators – particularly its black ones – forgotten.

    Marshall‘Major’ Taylor – as a performing trick-cycling youngster, he sported a mock-military tunic – was born into rural Indianan poverty in 1878, his slave parents having crossed into freedom from Kentucky. Effectively adopted by a wealthy white family as companion to their only son, he spent several happy years during which he was treated, and encouraged to view himself, as racially equal. Taylor was, therefore, no Jim Crow-era ‘uppity nigger’, never having been a ‘downity’ one in the first place.

    Such lifestyle gave him access to the unheard-of luxury of a bicycle, upon which machine, when he duly returned, aged thirteen, to his birth family, he displayed such prodigious competitive prowess that, allied with his acrobatic skills, he was able to turn professional some five years later.

    World champion

    His rise thereafter was meteoric. Within a couple of years he had won both national and world titles, broken and re-broken no fewer than seven world records – and all in the face of appalling racial hostility. With cycling’s then governing body, the League of American Wheelmen attempting an outright colour ban to supplement prevailing member antipathy, Taylor experienced frequent difficulty both entering events – and then exiting them in one piece. Under the noses of prejudiced officials, he was routinely fouled and assaulted, at best having to single-handedly overcome the combined efforts of the entire field. Spectators and journalists, however, loved this gutsy, stylish rider – “the few hissed: the many cheered” – and promoters, recognising his box office appeal, welcomed him.

    A devout Baptist, Taylor’s refusal to compete on Sundays effectively precluded further world titles and when physically attacked his response, invariably, was to turn the other cheek – and simply pedal a bit faster. Over several years he was, unquestionably, the best short-distance cyclist on the planet, idolised throughout Europe and the Antipodes, practically unbeatable in fair competition.

    Retiring in 1910, Taylor, like so many sportsmen, struggled with life-beyond-adrenalin. He entered the fledgling motor trade but proved a better cyclist than businessman. Ever-generous and charitable, his fortune slowly evaporated, his marriage foundered, his health collapsed and dying penniless in Chicago in 1932, his unclaimed corpse was accorded a segregated pauper’s burial.

    So much for ‘sport’ within class-divided, socially fractured society. In truth, how could it be otherwise? With life for billions a constant struggle for basic economic subsistence or paltry reward – a rat race – its recreational elements must surely reflect this. Where winning, acquiring, surviving are the overriding imperatives, then cheating, shortcutting, colluding will inevitably follow. And anyway, the race itself is pretty well fixed – odds fiddled, running order predetermined, from boudoir (parked Bentley or park bench) to battleground (boardroom or building site).

    When the rat race is over

    What then, when humanity has finally transcended the rat race? With the world’s resources now the common heritage how will societal attitudes towards sport have altered and in what ways might the calibre of performance have been affected? Will there actually be competitive sport?

    The great post-war Australian coach, Percy Cerutty once averred that the finest athletic displays he ever witnessed were in Aboriginal communities where, uncluttered with and unfettered by what he called “Western values” and religious hang-ups, participants deported themselves with a natural elegance and fleetness of foot, and could endure levels of pain and suffering well beyond those of their ‘civilized’ counterparts.

    Replicating that in a concrete stadium would, however, have been problematic. Chucking a spear across an empty field, jumping in triplicate into a pit of sand, lumbering endlessly around a plastic track with neither tasty kangaroo up front nor hungry crocodile behind to stimulate the pace? And what use would a communistic tribesman have had for a gold medal except to dangle it on his didgeridoo?

    Such issues will be, of course, for society’s members – locally, globally, varyingly – to settle. Many will doubtless see sport purely as a means of healthy exercise and recreation whether strenuous and vigorous or painstaking and skilful; others may prefer to merely spectate or do nothing.

    Some competitive elements and means of recording may well of course linger: football retaining its goalposts and referees, athletics its measuring tapes and stopwatches, judo its belt and points systems, but gone surely will be the all-pervading need to defeat, vanquish and rout: the tackle above the ball, the punch below the belt, the bouncer, the beamer and the hypodermic. Imagine: the Corinthian Spirit restored; amateurism regaining its true meaning and status within sport – and beyond. Imagine: world festivals replacing international competitions; sport for sport’s sake. Imagine too: divisive national flags recycled into cleaning mops; chauvinistic anthems supplanted by…Imagine.

    And if some future Major Taylor is observed swooping around a velodrome with a posse of somewhat paler gentlemen in his wake, there will be no question whatsoever of bullwhip or hood: he’ll simply be pedalling a wee bit faster.

    Andrew Armitage

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