Britain's War Against Competitive Sports

There was a time when Britain had a reputation for excelling in competitive sports. These days, however, the experience of children engaging in competitive sports comes with a health warning. Since the 1980s, many schools have drawn the conclusion that team sports are an outdated and psychologically risky masculine vice that should be heavily regulated if not banned altogether.

A bit of a problem for a nation that will host the Olympics in 2012; that is why Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the nation needed to have more competitive sport at school. He stated that his government had begun to "correct the tragic mistake of reducing the competitive element in school." Brown's announcement is unlikely to undermine the powerful cultural crusade against children's natural instinct to compete against one another. It is worth noting that back in 2000, a government minister, Chris Smith, promised to put competitive sport "back on its feet." Three years later a member of the Cabinet, Charles Clarke, argued that it was "ridiculous" to ban competition on school sports days, and last year another minister, Alan Johnson, stated that it was "absurd and perverse political correctness" that led to the outlawing of this practice.

Unfortunately, the challenge of reversing this "tragic mistake" faces formidable obstacles. The ideals associated with a sporting ethos are bitterly opposed by a formidable army of educators, psychologists, and health professionals who contend that competition threatens the emotional well-being of children. They claim the spirit of competition sends the wrong signals since it undermines cooperative behavior. Apparently, children who fail to come in first suffer long-term trauma and their self-esteem risks becoming damaged for life.