Much to the consternation of broadcasters, some of whom have bet the farm on fansâ willingness to pay gradually escalating monthly subscriptions in order to watch the self-styled âmost exciting league in the worldâ, thereâs an increasing volume of evidence to suggest that the number of people watching Champions League and Premier League football âliveâ on television is plummeting.
Yet while televised footballâs popularity has waned, so other sports have attracted new participants; cycling, swimming and rugby union are three recent examples. Indeed sport, claims Matthew Syed in his latest book, encroaches more than ever into our daily lives â consider, for instance, the amount of space dedicated to it in your newspaper and the frequency with which a sports-related story makes front-page news.
Syed asks why this should be the case; after all, sport is âsuperficially frivolousâ, yet in answering his own question, he hits the nail on the head. Sport, he declares, is âunderpinned by themes basic to the nature of the human condition: heroism, drama, competition, hierarchy, psychology, morality and, perhaps most important of all, the quest for greatness.â This, he maintains, is why sport and our love of it, has grown despite scandals at FIFA, the IOC and a host of other governing bodies.
Nor is this a modern phenomenon; sport has gripped the attention of people since the time of the ancient Greeks 1,200 years ago and it continues to do so. The competition between a supremely talented quartet of tennis players, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray not only holds spectatorsâ attention, it âspurs innovationâ as the competitors âdare each other to greater heights,â says Syed.
This is another thought-provoking tome (actually, itâs an edited collection of articles which first appeared in The Times) from a man who is building an impressive portfolio of sport-related titles. As someone who competed at two Olympics, Syed is well qualified to explore sportâs mental side and to explain why the hardships suffered by player X or team Y played a part in making them their chosen sportâs greatest exponents.
Sports, says Syed, is trivial, but itâs also profound. Heâs right, which is why his âedited highlightsâ from more than two million words are such a compelling read.