“There’s nothing stupid about football”, Father Ted & Sport for All – Kevin Volf

If you haven’t watched the episode of Father Ted entitled Escape from Victory stop reading right now, watch it, and come right back here because there are spoilers ahead. If you have then you are familiar with this piece of dialogue from right at the start:

Mrs Doyle: It’s only a stupid game of football!

Dougal: Mrs Doyle, I’m sorry but no. There’s nothing stupid about football, and there’s nothing at all stupid about the annual all-priest five-a-side over 75s indoor football challenge match… against Rugged Island!

I know that I’m preaching to the converted but Dougal is absolutely right; there is nothing stupid about football. The physical activity facilitated by participation in organised sports such as football has numerous documented physical and mental health benefits. It also has community and social benefits. Sports can bring together the community and facilitate social bonding. Furthermore, there is evidence that it has positive effects on educational outcomes. It can even reduce crime!1

Recognising the individual and community benefits that sports can provide, the Council of Europe (a human rights organisation) recommended in 1975 to member state governments to base national policy on the principles of the “European Sports for All Charter”. Article one of the Sport for All charter reads simply:

Every individual shall have the right to participate in sport.

The reason that I find this profound is demonstrated by the fact that, in the above referenced Father Ted episode, the vision of these old priests ambling after a rolling football is the gag. Implicit in this is that these old priests, well past their physical prime, have no business playing this young man’s game! But a bunch of old friends getting out together to have some fun is a wonderful thing. Who says that all sporting activity must be justified on the basis of high performance and aggressive competition? I should be so lucky as to have a circle of friends to have a kick around with in advanced years.

If there is a message I would like a viewer to take from that Father Ted episode it’s not that older men shouldn’t play football. As the episode progresses the aforementioned football sceptic Mrs. Doyle, starts reading about football. Then she starts watching football. Pretty soon she’s hooked. By the end of the episode she, and a whole crowd of women with presumably similar former attitudes, are pitch side. They’re chanting and roaring at the opposition and having a whale of a time. I approve the message that these games can have widespread appeal even amongst people who, for whatever reason, we don’t typically think would be interested in them. So, sport is not just for young men. Let’s have sport for all rather than sport for some.

Sport for the people. All of them.

1. Taylor P, Davies L, Wells P, Gilbertson J, Tayleur W. A review of the social impacts of culture and sport. 2015.  http://shura.shu.ac.uk/9596/

Kevin Volf is postgraduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences with a research  interest in the Policy Evaluation Network (PEN).  His PhD research involves the development of a Physical Activity Environment Policy Index; A Tool to Advance Irish Physical Activity Policy.  Contact: kevin.volf@ul.ie or @kevin_volfLinked-In.  

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