Recently I was taken to an American football game with my partner’s two teenage boys. I sat there, in splendid sunshine, watching a group of men in helmets running towards – and sometimes, for variety, away from – each other. Occasionally there was an explosion of cheering from the crowd and the whole thing lasted about four hours.
I didn’t understand any of it. I hadn’t got a clue what was happening, despite the efforts of everyone explaining what was going on. Still, I ate hot dogs and drank beer and watched other people’s excitement and had a lovely time. It turns out I didn’t need to grasp the subtleties of the game in order to have an enjoyable experience.
Last year, I was lucky enough to go to Wimbledon. Tennis is a sport I do understand, given that it is excruciatingly simple once you get your head around the fact that scoring starts at 15 for some inexplicable reason. Once again, I enjoyed myself.
I was reminded of these occasions when a woman called Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, was lambasted for claiming that sports chat should be monitored at work because ‘a lot of women, in particular, feel left out’. There was the usual outrage, with people online saying what you’d expect them to say. The people who were angry remained so. The people who weren’t angry mostly stayed silent. Whatever the merits of her position, Ms Francke certainly gave the Chartered Management Institute more attention than it’s had in a while.
She’s wrong, of course. Generally when someone talks about something I don’t understand, I don’t feel excluded. I feel curious to know more. Plenty of women are interested in sport and have the knowledge to go with it. Look at the host of brilliant female sports commentators – Kirsty Gallacher, Gabby Logan and Eniola Aluko (who has played football for England more than 100 times) to name but a few.
It is bizarrely retrograde to assume that genders have their own separate conversational topics, as if we’ve suddenly been teleported back to an era when only men are allowed to wear trousers. Besides, it’s not as if talking about football is the only way to be boring and exclusive. If you’ve ever heard me talk about The Archers or The Real Housewives, then you’ll know my conversation can be just as dull and impenetrable as detailed deconstructions of video assisted referees delivered by your local pub bore. Equality is about equality in all areas: including the right to be uninteresting.
This is all fairly self-evident, but what I realised looking back is that there is great joy to be had in not understanding. We live in a time of enormous knowledge, and if we don’t understand something, we can find the answer online. But sport is a connecting force even if you aren’t an expert. My joy in that game of football did not come from knowing the rules, just as my joy in the tennis match did not stem from being able to talk about advantage points.
It came from being there with loved ones, part of a crowd that connected to something bigger. It came from feeling the surge of adrenaline and fellow-feeling as an auditorium of people cheered. It came from looking at the beauty of athletes in motion, even if I wasn’t sure what was happening. And, if I’m honest, it was the hot dogs too. Good grief, they were delicious.
Afterwards, we were all able to talk about our experience. I did not feel left out – quite the opposite. My utter inability to grasp the rules was a source of shared hilarity and bonding. There was plenty to discuss, not least what they put into those sausages to make them so moreish.
This week I’m…
My toast with Marmite Smooth Peanut Butter. I didn’t love the Crunchy Peanut Butter version, but this one… well, this one is oddly delicious.
More vegetables thanks to Melissa Hemsley’s latest book Eat Green, packed full of delicious, healthy, sustainable recipes.
With Living Proof Triple Detox Shampoo. My hair decided to sap itself of moisture with no explanation. This shampoo sorted me out.