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On Sports and Games

Spectator sports have become an ubiquitous part of the modern world.  Anywhere one goes, one finds huge crowds drawn to stadiums or arenas, hoping to be entertained by their favorite teams.  Certainly, anyone who has lived for some time in England or America can state without any hesitation that spectator sports plays a massive role in those nations. Sports are broadcast on every major news channel, and famous athletes attain the status of national heroes in their respective countries. Indeed, it seems that the younger generations know more about sport than they do about anything else around them!

Of course, we cannot discount the notion of sports entirely. In the Traditional Weltanschauung, every reality was a symbol and every action a ritual. Actions of a competitive nature have existed since ancient times, and in many societies took on a regal and sacred character. In the traditional world, what appeared externally as an athletic event, was never too far removed from its more esoteric and regal function. For instance, we see that in the Classical Greek tradition, the ancient Olympics were as much a religious festival as an athletic event, with the act of competition itself (ἀγών) representing a manner of worship to the Greek Gods. Likewise, the Pythian Games were dedicated to Apollo, in remembrance of his defeat of the chthonic figure Python.

So too, in Asia and the Americas, what might be called sports today to the casual observer, in fact took on a sacred character. Long before sumo wrestling was a spectator sport, it was a Shinto ritual that was meant to entertain the Japanese deities (the kami), and to this day, many of the religious aspects of sumo are preserved in the arena.  Finally, in the case of the indigenous people of the Americas, the predecessor of lacrosse was played for religious reasons: “for the pleasure of the Creator” and as a collective prayer on the part of its inhabitants.  The act of playing this game was not merely to “throw a ball around,” but to engage in a sort of active ascetism.   That it was often referred to as “the little war,” or “little brother of war,” and that players and playing implements were consecrated by the medicine-men, only serves to tie them into the “traditional path of action” and reinforce their more traditional nature when we compare them with the sterile and vapid sports of today.

In the traditional worldview, sport and athletics were viewed as being a simulation of war and victory. Since war was regarded as both spiritual and physical, traditional attitudes towards sports surpassed mere exercise. This was apparent in a more vulgar form in the Coliseum, where historic battles would be re-enacted, but also in a more metaphysical sense: the winner of a foot-race or wrestling competition was considered to have won the victory “over himself” and his body, and as Evola states, “achieved initiation” as “the ‘heroes’ of a dramatic and endless struggle”.

Nevertheless, as all good things must come to an end, so too did the sacred nature of competition and games. In the case of the Romans, it was because, gradually, sports took on a more plebeian character, amassing mobs of spectators, until – during the final years of the Roman Empire – they became little more than a staple of mindless entertainment for the entertainment of plebeian classes, with the ceremonial and sacred element all but forgotten.  In fact, by the time Christianity came to the forefront in the Roman Empire, the games had totally lost any sacred character that had remained, and would altogether be banned for being completely vulgar and mindless displays of decadence.  Nonetheless, a portion of their memory was preserved in a metaphorical way that referred to the asceticism of contemplation and spiritual perfection:  “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Today, any spectator sport is a far cry from any notion of metaphysical heroism, and while it might be said there is an element of “raw and unrefined” masculinity in many spectator sports, the modern athlete is an undisciplined ruffian who is little better than any other money-grubbing celebrity, and any competition in spectator sports is little more than “prolefeed” designed to that keep the masses docile.  That is to say, the average American sportsmen of today are bursting with raw and unorganized energy, but utterly lacking in any higher virtues.  They are mere automatons who, because of the blind and frantic obsession with their vocation scurry about on a field, resembling more the wild animals of the Colosseum than its warriors.   Even the notion of excelling in an event for the sake of excellence itself is often subsumed by the materialistic desire for fame and lucrative contracts on the part of the athletes.  As for sports fans themselves, many of them are generally too ignorant to care about anything else, and wander about in a drunken zombie-like stupor between athletic matches.  The modern-day sporting scene, with only a few exceptions, is marked by a culture of decadence and is primarily composed of the most degenerate spectacles of hero worship.

Sports fans

American sports fans await a glimpse their favorite athlete outside a stadium after a sports match

Of course, the degenerate state of sporting and athletics only follows the pattern of everything else in the modern world.  In a world  where the warrior-ascetics have been replaced by ruffian soldiers, where warfare itself is inimical to the warrior ethos where the enforcers of laïcité proclaim the mantra “God is dead,” — where communities are only theoretically and loosely cobbled together by vague notions of “democracy and freedom,” and where the principle of quantity reigns supreme, the gravitation towards a purely decadent form of athleticism is only natural.  Modern-day “sports” are thus the distorted mirror image of the ludi of classical times – the one place where the undifferentiated man sitting on his couch at home can lay claim to a sort of pseudo-triumph, and then only by-proxy.

Evola writes:

Sport is a typical counterfeit of action in the traditional sense of the word. A pointless activity, it is nevertheless still characterized by the same triviality of work and belongs to the same physical and lightless group of activities that are pursued at the various crossroads in which plebeian contamination occurs.

All this said, one should not necessarily be discouraged from engaging in physical activities.  There will always be certain practical efforts to be recognized, in maintaining a certain regimen of healthy activity.  While this is still not traditional or spiritually properly oriented, the notion that one “competes against himself” can at least give the activity a meaning beyond a scoreboard.  Moreover, not every physical exertion is necessarily a base action in and of itself, and certain pursuits may in fact invoke an aspects of heroic action of the ancient games, when they are performed with the correct mentality.  Evola, for instance, tells us that mountaineering may be one such pursuit.  In addition to this, there are certainly many Eastern martial arts as well, which have maintained a certain ethos among them and which may even have an esoteric bent to them if taught from an authentic lineage.

Modern day-spectator sports are a long cry from what they once were; they have devolved, like everything else, into a part of a culture which is defined by a degenerate culture of reality TV and rap music.  It is clear that excellence can no longer be found in such a realm, but must be carried through by those brave enough to weather such a tumultuous era, and emerge as the true victors in the fight against modernity and degeneracy.

About William van Nostrand

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.