Patriotism and Sport by G.K. Chesterton
In Patriotism and Sport by G.K. Chesterton we have the theme of ignorance, individualism, patriotism and elitism. Taken from his All Things Considered collection the reader realises from the beginning of the essay that Chesterton may be exploring the theme of ignorance. By having newspapers link patriotism to sport Chesterton feels those in power are being ignorant and irresponsible. He himself does not see any link between patriotism and sport particularly when sport is very often an individual occupation. Relying on the individual to take gold and win. Something that the majority of those in power do not seem to realise. This realisation is also lost on many working class people who Chesterton feels follow the idleness of the rich. Which may suggest that Chesterton believes many working class people have the inability to think for themselves and just follow the lead of those who may be wealthier. With regard to sport being an emblem of patriotism Chesterton also argues that many athletes are at times not taken as being English. That their lineage may be Indian or from some other country and as such they cannot be pooled into the spectrum of being patriotic to ones fellow countryman.
What is also interesting about the essay is that English people appear to forget that some of their favourite sports or hobbies were not invented by the English. Chesterton using hunting as an example. Yet many English people will blindly follow the sport of hunting considering themselves to be patriotic by doing so. For Chesterton the issue with regard to patriotism and sport is simple. Just because England may be weak at one particular sport does not necessarily mean those involved in the participation or viewing of the sport are less patriotic. Just as England’s success at a particular sport means that people are being patriotic. The two, patriotism and sport, should never clash. At least not in Chesterton’s eyes. A nation’s success cannot be determined by an individual’s success nor should their failures be judged either as being the nation’s failures. Again patriotism and sport should not be allowed to clash. If anything Chesterton may be also suggesting that English people worship sport too much and place too much of an emphasis on it. The individual athlete should not have to carry the hopes of a nation on their shoulders and should they lose only be disregarded by the majority for their failure.
Chesterton also appears to be suggesting that being average is what is truly great about England. Using Waterloo as an example and the bravery of the average, common soldier as the real victor of Waterloo. Rather than success at Waterloo having been fermented on the cricket fields of Eton (elitism) the real success for Waterloo was on the many village greens in which the soldiers in their youth played an average game of sport. There may be some truth in this as by being average it is possible that Chesterton is suggesting that the soldiers who fought at Waterloo were more resilient or determined. Persevering rather than giving up and admitting defeat to Napoleon. If anything it is the average nature of England that has made it such a great nation yet some will still suggest that the elite playing cricket at Eton are the real heroes of England. A tale most likely spread by those who believe in the link between patriotism and sport. What happens on the sports field is a far cry from what happens of the battlefield. Life is much more serious for those who are involved in war. Sport is not an issue that would naturally spring to their minds but to an observer it could be to the forefront of their minds.
The end of the essay is also interesting as Chesterton appears to be suggesting that athletics has become as elite as those who play cricket at Eton. An ordinary man can no longer participate in sport due to the elitism and has no chance of actually winning in their chosen field. The individual has been overtaken by others and their drive to link both patriotism and sport together. For what advantage is difficult to say. Perhaps those who are in authority believe that should patriotism be high among English people. They will have more success in not only the sporting field but the battlefield too. Something which may confuse many readers as both fields should not be aligned with one another. One is a sporting zone while the other is a killing zone. Justifiable by those in authority as being necessary for England’s development as a colonial power. In reality it is better to separate the two zones and to take the idea of patriotism out of sport. For the security of the average man who is after all the one who will be asked to fight in the killing fields for the elitists.