My head buzzing with thoughts of flight and death, I headed for earthier territory. For this I chose the arid desert-scapes, natural parks and underdeveloped coastlines of Almeria. There were no specific sporting activities I was looking for here, more the general kind of activity people do away from the Hurley burely of the city and competitive life. Something one person can do. Like walk, kayak or fish, must really capture the essence of what is enjoyable about sport.
Inspiration came from an unlikely souce. Stepping onto the train were two Italian ladies. Alex Mayer, a semiprofessional flamenco dancer, and Teresa Bellina, a photographer making film about Alex’s life and her struggle to make it. After a brief exchange in Spanish, we began chatting in English about her life and flamenco. It sounded tough. Alongside teaching English, Alex would be dancing at least two hours a day, alongside additional exercise to stay fit, and more if there were evening performances. Watching what you eat, constant aches and pains, passing up other opportunities, it certainly sounded quite like the life of a sports person. She was adamant that that is what sue was. “Flamenco is a sport” she ruled. Hving not ever seen it live I was in no position to comment, bit I felt I needed convincing. True, as she said it sounded extremely physical, requiring dedication and training like any sport. And true, it requires one to push yourself continually, achieving greater and greater purity of expression. Great players I’m various sports are often described as dancers (Shane Williams, Lionel Messi, Muhammed Ali) so could it not go the other way? Does it therefore count as a sport?
I had been pondering this question a lot since watching the bullfight in Sevilla. In my last post I had largely concluded that bullfighting was not a sport. Again, it is athletic and demanding, but withbrare exceptions, there is not so much of a contest. The matador so rarely loses; everytime the bull dies. My conjecture then is that you need at least 2 sides competing on an equal footing for it to be called a sport? Realistically this is quite hard to find, can the small F1 teams really compete with Mercedes, Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s millions? Can other countries compete with British cycling’s rigorous and exhaustive approach? Furthermore, where does this leave the kite surfing that had my soul soaring a week or so ago? One can certainly find kite surfing competitions, but that did not appear to be what was happening on the beach in Tarifa. Was it not a sport there, but becomes a sport as suddenly as some competitive framework is laid down? Are hiking, fishing or kayaking simply past times until someone starts doing it against you?
This seems quite reasonable, even if it creates some unusual possibilities. Could ironing be a sport if you do it competitively? What about cooking, painting or writing? In Valencia I watched two brightly dressed teams build tottering human towers; were they competing in the sport of human tower building?
Why not? I am happy to let the “non-sports” become sports if they desire, its not a protected word. Bullfighting as I saw it is not a sport, but if it were altered perhaps it could be. Everyone has created in their kitchen or garden the sport of yoghurt pot curling or rubber ball hit-and-run or a myriad others. Surely this was how the “proper” sports got started, back in the misty memories of our cultures.
To answer the question for flamenco, I actually managed to go see a performance (match? game?) while in Almeria. The set up was minimal, but the effect anything but. Three men, singing and clapping their hands, one man on guitar, and a woman dancing. All stamping their feet for a prehistoric percussion. All committed to the moment, the performance, the seriousness of it. Portraying life and death, love and loss. Genuine seriousness is something Johan Huizinga states as necessary for true play; the involved must be truly believing in what you are doing yet all the while knowing it is just for mimicking real life. Well we had that here. The crowd ole’d, clapped and whooped for an encore. The fervour caught one of the male singers, who lept to his feet, visage a riot of emotion, and just started dancing. Two women from the crowd, presumably passing flamenco dancers, were swept on stage, caught in the thrill of it. It was intoxicating. Was it a sport? Probably not; it was hard to see any losers. But it was bloody brilliant. Ask me I’d rather be a matador in a sunny corrida, or a flamenco singer in a dimly lit bar, and I’ll only give you one answer. And it doesn’t involve a cape, some horses, or the fluttering of white handkerchiefs.