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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Claims that sport is elitist are absurd – just ask any cricketer practising on a sandpit in the UAE

Academics have claimed sports in school are racist and indicative of white privilege. The idea they are nationalistic is ridiculous, says Peter Hellyer

Street cricket in Al Sufouh, Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Street cricket in Al Sufouh, Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

On Sunday it was April 1, widely known and marked as April Fool's Day, a day for playing pranks or circulating them via the media.

I remember one occasion many years ago when a friend of mine managed to trick a local newspaper – not this one – into printing a story about the discovery of a massive hoard of gold coins somewhere in the Liwa. It was a joke, of course, although it created considerable excitement.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a story in a British newspaper that, had it been published on Sunday, I would have immediately taken to be an April Fool's Day joke.

It wasn’t, though – it was the latest in a long line of examples of the idiocy of political correctness, something of which I am not a great fan.

The headline of the story read "PE lessons are ‘racist and celebrate white privilege'." The story reported that a study by academics at Leeds Beckett University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences had come to the conclusion that "traditional school sports uphold elitist ideas that were an extension of nationalism and the British empire".

The report went on to say that the academics involved "claim that giving advice about fitness could be racist by imposing cultural norms".

A former chairman of the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality was quoted as saying that the study was "crazy". I might have used rather different terms but the term "cobblers" comes to mind.

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I have not had the dubious pleasure of reading the full report. If these, though, are the key conclusions of the study, which no doubt consumed a considerable amount of British and Norwegian taxpayers’ money, then I can’t help thinking those funds might have been better spent promoting physical education in schools.

Are great British Olympic athletes like Somali-born Sir Mo Farah endorsing white privilege and racism by inspiring thousands of youngsters of varied ethnic origins to take up competitive sport?

Are Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan cricketing stars of today and yesteryear promoting the ancient concepts of the British empire by enthralling crowds?

When the anti-apartheid movement in Britain, in which I was involved, was campaigning against a 1970 tour by the South African cricket team because it was all white, were we inspired by an opposition to nationalism? No – we opposed the apartheid regime because it excluded great non-white players like Basil D’Oliviera from selection to represent their country.

While sports like rugby, soccer and tennis may have had their birth in Britain and have spread from there to the rest of the world, their adoption by people from other lands, both within and outside the former British empire, surely suggests they were not simply adjuncts to a UK-centric nationalism.

And those south Asian cricket players in the UAE who make good use of car parks, sandpits and other open spaces at the weekend to knock a ball about would surely be surprised to hear that the sport they play is somehow "elitist".

I was never a great fan of PE lessons at school – although I, like others, can derive considerable pleasure from watching top gymnasts. I recognise the real value for children of PE lessons as part of their education.

If that means they also learn about competitiveness, about striving to do their best, as well as being more healthy, so much the better. Yes, there can be ugly overtones to the nationalism expressed by supporters of a nation’s sport teams but that has little to do with the sport concerned, while the idea that promoting fitness is somehow "racist by imposing cultural norms" is, surely, utterly preposterous.

I wish I could convince myself that the study was meant to be a joke. As it is, though, I’ll just have to take it as ignorant codswallop.

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