At least I did try
PNG one of world’s most ‘fragile’ nations says report

Sport is just not me, but other people love it apparently

Paul Aiton in action for Papua New Guinea (Fox Sports)PHIL FITZPATRICK

I HAVE never really understood sport, especially the organised kind like football and cricket. It all seems a bit silly and frivolous.

And yet millions, maybe billions, of people swear by it and can get quite emotional, even violent, about a game.

Papua New Guinea’s obsession with rugby is a good example. There are apparently several forms of rugby and I’m not sure which one prevails there or what the differences are. Anyway, people in PNG have died arguing about whichever one it is.

I guess psychologists would tell us it’s all about the sublimation of primitive urges to fight. Diverting people, especially men, to sport lets them play out natural aggression in a relatively harmless way.

Has football ever stopped tribal wars? I think it might have caused a few.

I don’t think any major wars have been fought over sport. Given that these seem to be triggered by even sillier things like religion or pride, I guess it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Maybe a major conflict over sport has come close to breaking out but not yet, thank goodness.

In this sense, sport is a kind of social engineering, a bit like television, used to keep restless populations doped up and compliant.

Still, Donald Trump appears to have been able to drag a lot of people away from their idiot boxes long enough to vote for him. I’m not sure many of them were sporting types, they all looked too overweight for that sort of thing.

Other psychologists, especially fans of Freud, tell us that games like football and soccer have deep underlying sexual connotations. I find football and soccer confusing concepts – apparently they can be the same thing.

Anyway, in the Freudian interpretation, the ball is apparently a sperm and the goalposts are the female sexual organ. The men on the field struggling to get the ball are actually competing to inseminate the goal posts. Yes, I know, it’s bizarre.

It might explain why so many footballers get into trouble with booze and women.

But it doesn’t explain why women are rapidly taking up sports like football. We even have a top level women’s AFL competition in Australia now. Work that one out Sigmund.

This fascination with sport has created another phenomenon. This one that lines up really well with modern economic orthodoxy. Sport is big bucks nowadays.

People can knock a little white ball around a paddock with a stick and get paid a million dollars to drop it into a series of holes in the ground in fewer strokes than anyone else. Apparently it has something to do with birdies, eagles and albatrosses.

How obscene is that? The million dollars I mean.

Not the ball going into the hole or, as the Freudians would have it, an act of congress.

Sportsmen and women are regularly lauded as heroes and make heaps of money letting other people stick photographs of them on questionable products.

Rugby union star Will Genia is a hero in Papua New Guinea and accorded much adoration even though he seems to look and speak like any other Australian.

An overweight bloke called Mal Meninga was once popular but has blotted his copybook apparently.

There are some positive spinoffs to sport. In Australia it is a conduit to economic independence and social advantage, especially for indigenous kids playing football.

People ask me who I barrack for. Apparently it’s a way of establishing my credibility and suitability as an acquaintance.

I tell them the Maroons, which I think is some sort of football team. If they’re still not sure about me, they ask what sort of car I drive. I usually tell them a red one.

They think I have a great sense of humour.

Our next door neighbours are mad marathon people. The wife gets up at four in the morning and runs to Hobart and back. Then she gets on her bike and does it all again. Her daughter is rapidly overtaking her.

I must admit I like to walk, but that’s got more to do with checking out the scenery and gossiping with people I meet on the way than anything half healthy.

I’ve got a brother-in-law who goes to the gym religiously every afternoon. He runs on machines, lifts lumps of iron on poles and swims up and down a heated pool.

Such wasted energy. If he burnt up the same amount of energy digging a vegetable patch he could survive for weeks and months on the output.

I know, I’m a cynical old fart who doesn’t understand.

But at least I’ve got a vegetable garden.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Didn't someone else see cricket as an alternative to tribal warfare? Charles Abel at Kwato perhaps. he obviously hadn't watched Trobriand Islands' cricket

Ross Wilkinson

According to Francis West in his biography of Sir Hubert Murray, Murray stated in his book, Papua of Today, that he and his officers searched for substitutes for cannibalism, headhunting and tribal warfare. He considered that pig meat and pigs'heads would replace the first two and football would replace fighting.

However, that might be fine for the actual participants of a football match but what about the audience? Having lived in Port Moresby while the annual Papua versus New Guinea rugby league matches were played, I was nearly caught up in a riot at the end of one of these matches when the crowd exited into the streets of Boroko and started smashing up everything in sight.

Bernard Corden

Mike Carlton, the journalist, provided a classic description of rugby league and said it was a game played by a handful of northern English who keep coal in their bath, do strange things with ferrets, and race pigeons in their spare time.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I was once trapped at the top end of Fraser Island with a bunch of indigenous rangers during one of those State of Origin matches Richard and they tried to explain the intricacies of the game and the differences between league and union. Alas, it went in one ear and out the other.

I can claim a passing acquaintance with snooker in my misspent youth if that helps.

Richard Jones

Well, well, well Phil. And here I was - as someone who earned a living writing and broadcasting sport for 35 years -- 10 of those in PNG - sure that you were a man of considerable knowledge.

Rugby league, the 13 a side game, is PNG's national sport. Huge emotions are stirred in PNG three times a year when the NSW vs. Qld State of Origin matches are played.

Rugby union is the hearty chaps/Twickers code played by teams of 15-a-side. It has a wider international appeal than league which started life as a code in the industrial north of the UK.

The AFL is the peak body of Australian Rules footy. As a South Australian you probably know that people mistakenly and constantly refer to the 18-a-side game as 'AFL'. What they actually mean is 'Aussie Rules.' The AFL is just the top grade in that sport.

Bernard Corden

Sport is war without the bullets-George Orwell

John K Kamasua

Rugby league in PNG is still misunderstood by many who support it; it can beget violence and I'm thrilled to know it has been used as a peace tool in Bena Bena area of EHP.

Yet paradoxically, it can be one of the few sports in the country that can unite our nation! Sounds foolish but true.

The Australian Rugby League and Australian government has for some time seen and talked about the potential the sport of rugby league has in doing a lot of good for the country, but no significant technical and managerial assistance has been provided to realise that potential.

 Gordon Barry Shirley

Phil, The PNG folk who proudly represented their country at the Empire/ Commonweath Games in Perth in 1962 might not support some of your sentiments. Sadly most are now deceased.

Terry Shelley

Phil you may not believe this however I actually promoted the Bena Bena Peace Cup which was a rugby league comp in the Bena Bena area to promote peace among the warring clans out there.

I myself was very sceptical about using Rugby League in promoting peace however the day was a brilliant success.

We managed to bring Canberra Raiders on board through John Dixon of the Raiders who donated a large selection of equipment from the Raiders franchise which was distributed amongst the players.

I think it was probably the first time Rugby League has been used to create peace.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Did I say sport was 'evil' Ed?

I think I just said it was not my cup of tea. To each his own I say.

My next door neighbour looks great and her daughter looks even greater. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, has lately got crook knees. But, then again, so have I from all that walking I've done over my life, not least in PNG. I hope my next door neighbour's eventual arthritis is benign.

I guess with our obesity epidemic sport could be a good thing, participating rather than watching of course.

Digging a vegetable garden might help too.

Ed Brumby

Mission accomplished, Phil: you’ve provoked me.

Setting aside some of the obscenities of professional sports (outrageous player payments and transfer fees; drug-based performance enhancement and cheating; corruption on a global scale; ultra-violent tribalism), engagement and/or a more than passing interest in sport does more good than harm.

While inevitably promoting and supporting tribalism, both malignant and benign, amateur sports can instill desirable values and behaviours like teamwork, honesty, loyalty, self-discipline, diligence, respect for others, graciousness (in defeat and victory) and so on.

There are, also, the (sometime double-edged) ‘virtues’ of compliance with rules and obedience to authority generally (which are, also, the ultimate purpose of our education systems in any case).

And one should not overlook the obvious benefits for one’s general health, fitness and self-esteem: as a good friend once told me, going to the gym, running marathons and such have less to do with a desire for fitness than with promoting one’s self-esteem.

As you’ve noted yourself, involvement or merely an interest in sport acts as a social bond, allowing and reinforcing social interaction and engagement with others.

My own involvement in playing, refereeing and administering basketball in PNG enabled the establishment of connections and friendships with Papua New Guineans which would not have occurred otherwise and which continue to this day.

I realise, of course that I’ve said nothing that you (and other PNG Attitude readers) didn’t already know.

But it’s also worth remembering that, in the final analysis, sport is a force for good, not evil, regardless of your indifference and scorn.

Paul Oates

Onya Phil. I totally agree.

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