There is no doubt that the sports industry in this country has grown massively over the last twenty years. This growth is linked with the development of cable and satellite television channels, many of which supply continual sports coverage to subscribers. These channels earn huge revenues not only from subscriptions but also from advertisers who rush to advertise their goods and services when important sports events occur. The governing bodies of the various major sports in Britain, such as football, cricket, rugby and tennis, have cooperated with the television companies in signing agreements to allow the televising of their ‘products’. Thus, the amazing hype that surrounds major, or even run-ofthe-mill, sporting events stems from the pooled and vested interests of the owners of the media outlets and the groups who control the sports themselves. This continual high-intensity marketing of sport has led to a nation of obsessive watchers, most of whom are male
However, it is not only the people who watch most of their sport on television that are the fanatics. The real committed fans are those who follow their team week in, week out, as they play around the country. What, it could be asked, is wrong with that? Is this not a harmless pastime that causes no one any problems? Yes, it can be, but too often this obsession with ‘your team’ can take over from a proper concern with other important issues of employment, family, relationships and even money. We all probably know of some ‘sports nut’, to whom the success or failure of their chosen team or individual sporting god matters too much. Often belonging to a supporters’ club or unofficial grouping takes priority over relationships that would appear to be more important in an individual’s life, for example, a wife or children.
On the other hand, such an obsession with watching sport may arise because of a lack of close relationships in someone’s life. Individuals find a sense of belonging in a shared interest and this bonding can appear to fill a gap that wards off loneliness and a sense of isolation. In a group who come together to support a particular football team, for example, the individual may feel he is surrounded by friends and other people who understand and share his fanaticism. How healthy and meaningful this may be is open to question, however. If it leaves the way open for other friendships and relationships to blossom outside the shared obsession, then surely that does no lasting harm. If, however, the shared obsession starts to dominate an individual’s life, then it could have a negative effect on that person’s emotional and maturing process. In addition, this obsessive identification with a team can lead to aggression towards supporters of other teams and this sometimes erupts into violent behaviour.
The evidence seems to show that the media, with the co-operation of the world of professional sport, continually and deliberately feeds this obsession. Consider tabloid newspapers with their extensive. coverage of the major sports, especially football. At times, in these newspapers, world events are relegated to minor importance compared with how Chelsea or Manchester United are faring in their matches, or whether England’s cricketers can beat Australia or not. At times, it appears that the most important news at any given time is what has been happening on the sports fields. How many men turn to the sports pages first when they open their newspaper? And although there are fanatical female sports fans as well, what we are talking about here is largely a male obsession. Often women complain that their husbands or boy friends can only talk with enthusiasm about the football team they follow.
It can be argued, then, that young men are less ‘socialised’ than young women. This means they find social occasions more difficult than young women and forming lasting relationships more problematical. Boys too often are taught not to show feelings or ‘weakness’ so that there is a danger that they become guarded and withdrawn. Expressing their emotions becomes difficult as they mature. Becoming a fan, then, can make up for that lack because in the male group it is acceptable to show intense emotions on behalf of your team whether it be joy, disappointment, anger or enthusiasm. You are allowed to cry tears when your team does well or is defeated, because it is safely within the context of being a fan. However, outside that context, too often such a show of emotion would be dismissed as ‘cissy’. Watching professional sport can be an outlet for male emotions that are frowned upon in other situations.
Nevertheless, we do not have to look far for evidence that obsession with sport can hurt relationships, frequently cause financial problems as money that could be spent on more essential things is lavished on the expenses involved in following your team and is a major contributor to anti-social behaviour such as binge drinking and violence towards others who are seen as ‘enemies’. When interest in sport reaches this intensity, it is clear that something essential is missing from an individual’s life. Watching sport can be exciting and a way of bringing people together. Too often it is allconsuming so that fans lurch from extremes of despair to joy, depending on their team’s fortunes. It is a diversion from real life problems so that when you are following your team, you can put out of mind serious issues in your life that need to be dealt with. Many marriages, for example, have foundered on the rocks of sporting obsession.
In conclusion, then, I would argue that there is a distinct danger of too many people becoming overobsessed with watching professional sport. Statistics show that the number of young people actually playing sport has diminished, as the nation becomes largely watchers rather than players. We do not want a situation where the country is divided into two main groupings: professional sportsmen and women on the one hand and the spectators on the other. It is primarily a male problem, but the number of women who are obsessive sports fans is growing. There is the issue of the nation’s health as well, with an increasing number of young people reaching obese proportions because they do not take enough exercise and eat too much junk food. The government must take responsibility for providing more sports facilities and offering wider cultural opportunities for young people especially. Measures like those might stem the remorseless tide towards our becoming a nation of sporting couch-potatoes.