Sunday, June 26, 2011

Money Games

Belgium is a sporting nation with many national sports. Such as football: the international sport. The ever popular Cycling: the other international sport.
It also used to be Judo. A Belgian even won an Olympic medal once. But since said person retired, Judo was never mentioned again. International appeal is where it's at with the big sports because you're nobody if not a world leader.
I should mention Tennis as another somewhat national sport because of our tireless duo, racket-whipping the world's backside. But both are on their way out and this may spell the end for a few tennis clubs too many. As it goes, the afflicted sport will have representatives lobbying for government support, punctuated by the threat that no new talent shall be found or trained and our national image bruised unless certain financial demands are met. The government, faced with the dire prospects of additional international embarrassment will then pull funds from education and reallocate them to sports.

Education is a field we Belgians still manage to lead in, so why would funds be needed? As long as creationism stays off the agenda we're good to go. Unfortunately, too many young students become religious adults so there might be a spanner in the works. An expensive search campaign for said spanner was researched, planned, organised and subsequently scrapped due to budget cuts.

"Brawn over brains" has become the national motto. I wish I was kidding. The solution for the current financial crisis given by liberal democrat Dirk van Mechelen during election time was:
"We must work harder and harder, and I know because I used to be a butcher's son when I was young".
The line was delivered with the poised jaw conviction of Caesar crossing the Rubicon and tremendous intensity. To further clarify his point he said nothing, but let the grave rebuttal sink in during the long, long seconds of silence in which the camera paused the image on his fierce gaze.

I wonder if he managed to convince single mothers working two jobs to pay for food and bills. And I wondered at the time that if we were told the missing inner monologue about the butcher argument, it might have made at least some sense.

Money is always a problem. Even in sports. You can't get good at something without putting in the hours, and time is money.
In order for a sport to get subsidized we must first answer the question: what is a sport? We have appointed a minister to spend 8 hours a day to mull over this conundrum and come up with the list.

The current appointee is Philippe Muyters. After careful thought and consideration he has dismissed, among others, Chess, Darts and Billiards. The reason being "because there is no physical effort (involved)". The words inside the brackets were not present due to more budget cuts, but I added them for clarity.
He went on to say that "A sports-person must stimulate his physical development, upkeep or improve his condition. None of these condition are present with mental sports."
I do wonder how Sir Raymond Ceulemans reacted to this news. He was the World Champion of Carom Billiards 35 times and was awarded "Belgian sportsman of the year" in 1978. He even had an international nickname "Mr. 100".

Some of his shots look like magic:

During his long reign, Carom Billiards probably was a National Sport too. But even during Sir Ceulemans lifetime, the sport would cease to be that. Because of the lack of required muscle mass and sweat output?
The physical argument puzzled me because shooting Clay Pigeons still is a sport.

The reason Shooting Clay pigeons is still considered a sport by the minister is tradition. In my mind, this alone exposes the ministers intentions with the designation because shooting Clay Pigeons has no traditions as a sport. Though perhaps it does as a rich mans hunting game. Perhaps the ministers fancies himself in a tweed suit? Maybe he's the nostalgic type who would like a return to the time when colonialism yielded cheap Earl Grey Tea, a coloured man to shine your shoes and Jeeves to brush the dandruff off of said suit. I also find it hard to think of a sport as traditional when its main tools are firearms. Compared to Chess, Shooting Clay Pigeons is a toddler wielding a plastic pistol loaded with a suction cup dart.
Maybe the minister's reason for respecting the art of The Shooting Of The Pretend Bird is because it has the potential to put a meal on the table in a way playing Chess or Billiards doesn't. Those bring nothing to the table - they're not subsidised. However it may be, the former and latter definitions wielded by the elected official are inconsistent. In political speak, inconsistency is often named a dynamic response to demanding situations, or adapting to new situational circumstances, or tactical adjustment to stimulate a positive response. I'm sure Mr. Muyters has a fair arsenal of this kind of verbal buckshot. Which he wears like a bandoleer of blanks: Looking tough at first but looking more ineffectual with each subsequent shot.

For those wondering, my interest in this debate is from a gamer's perspective and e-sports. I'm sure Mr. Muyters has his reservations about all things e because of their minimal physical component. Which is a gross and offensive simplification. Say you're a programmer, your job is "pressing buttons on a keyboard". But let's stay on topic. I was wondering if games like Starcraft, Street Fighter, Call of Duty or Counter Strike could ever be recognised as a sport. I can attest to the fact those take a lot of effort to play competitively. One must have strategy, communication, lightning reflexes, nerves of steel and solid concentration. All those flow from good physical condition. And you have to use your brain.
If clay pigeons can be a sport, perhaps there's hope for Shooters like Call Of Duty or Counter Strike. Starcraft may be out of luck, because the strategy component makes it so akin to Chess, even if it's action packed and players need to perform about 250 to 300 actions per minute. I do wonder how Mr. Minister would view computer games. Pressing buttons like madmen, seeing rhyme nor reason in the actions. Probably the way he sees foreign languages, "Listen! It tries to communicate. How quaint, how primitive.".

So we probably won't see anything like this around here anytime soon:

Or even this:

But as with chess, so with e-sports. In that they don't require brawn, but finesse and clear thinking. Which brings me to the one thing Mr. Muyters probably has forgotten. While talking up physical condition and training he seemingly fails to notice that the brain is a physical organ situated in the corpus humanum and can be trained just as well as muscle. Or should I say, has to be trained. Perhaps the minister still clings to the belief that the mind and the brain are two separate things. A theory, that of the soul, invented more than 2000 years ago to try and explain the gap between body and mind. Because the mind is a projection of the brain. In my mind, or should I say brain, the following rule is true: the better the brain, the clearer the mind. And brains are more important than brawn. This is another rule: big brains are able to accomplish much more than big muscle and in much more then just sports. And that's where our country should make the difference. We need to develop our big brains because that's what were good at.
Anyway, if I told you about Muscles from Brussels, one man already comes to mind. So why still try? We could still take a shot at e-sports though.

I do believe that we should keep our bodies fit and healthy though, a healthy mind comes from a healthy brain comes from a healthy body. An idea that should be taught from a young age.
That's where Mr. Muyters has missed the point as well. At this point I would like point out that he's also the minister of Finances, Work and Planning. Plus he's got an economic background. A field he's probably better suited for. So imagine what his economist eyes beheld when he was delivered, on the 10th of June this year, the report that in 13 years our top sporting schools had only delivered 2 top-tier handball players. What a gigantic waste of resources! Logically, the sport has since been scrapped from the curriculum. Along with Judo, a former national sport, and long distance running, because our small country's lack of long distances.
With the budget cuts made to schools, the minister has crossed the border of the acceptable. If there's anything schools need it's more funding. The result of schools isn't just top tier sports-people but educated people. And that's what we can't have enough of. If we have enough of them maybe they'll even find their way to parliament.
And anyway, if you're a patron to the arts you can't be too concerned with return on investment. You just have to hope the artist you're funding that somewhere down the line, but don't count on it, because it's rare. It's the reason why patrons of the arts are rare. One just accepts that the money is gone, but the mind is at ease because the money has gone to a generally good cause, and not to say, an expensive mistress.
Speaking of arts, perhaps Mr. Muyters wants to take aim at the art schools because of the minimal amount of world renowned artists our country is producing? What a clever idea, if you can't sell it, why have culture at all?

I'm sure Mr. Muyters congratulates him on his big brains for being a minister. Perhaps hard to justify because it requires about the least physical activity in the nation's range of professions. I could call it hypocrisy, but I'm not sure about his after-hours activities. Maybe he has a second job as a longshoreman. Though more likely he goes to the firing range, where he shoots clay pigeons. Scoffing at his aide for his performance "Why did you load blanks instead of buckshot? Weren't you thinking?"

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