Cold, Cold War

cold war

What happens if we’re all bluffing, living half a life, churning out an existence which bows to the demands of politics and business?

Philip Larkin said “the eyes clear with age”. He was right. As a consequence, we begin to shut out the noise, no longer chase the pointless – steer clear of bogus thrills.

Table tennis remedies some of the hurt, acts as a part-time panacea, transports the mind to a better place. In its rhythm is joy, health, a beautiful nothingness, a disappearing act.

People play the game with wit accompanying them, the occasional growl and the odd bit of controversy. A night is rarely complete or perfect – just riddled with more good than bad if driving home with a smile.

It is ‘controversy’ which fascinates me the most.

Sport can be a truly dazzling thing capable of mending relations as in the case of the Sino-American thaw in 1971; Cold War tensions eased by the friendship between table tennis players, Zhuang Zedong and Glenn Cowan.

It can also muddy itself, exampled in 1969 by the Marylebone Cricket Club’s refusal to allow the mixed-race player, Basil D’Oliveira play for England against South Africa thus indirectly condoning the apartheid regime.

Boxing, of course, is not without its demons – unbeaten US fighter, Joe Louis (24-0) defeated by Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1936; Schmeling lauded by the Nazi Party as a symbol of Aryan supremacy.

American writer, Langston Hughes echoed part of his nation’s mood at the time: “I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting on the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came out that Joe was knocked out, people cried.”

Such magnitude and meaning I have yet to witness in the table tennis halls of Bolton, however it prompts bigger questions over politics and rights within sport. On the outside, sport has embraced physical disabilities and differences. At a local level I regularly play against Asians, whites, blacks, people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism. It is the norm – nothing unusual, nothing new, something that arouses only bigots.

But start talking politics, start getting inside a person, and it often ends in a rumble. Some people confuse reasoned arguments (or dialectics) with feuds. Some are hard-wired not to listen at all – see between the black and the white, or the numerous religious scriptures.

Little known is that Schmeling actually had a Jewish American manager (Joe Jacobs) but was trapped by the ideology of the day. Muhammad Ali, not all hero, was so consumed by the Nation of Islam that he chose not to mourn the assassination of the reformed Malcolm X in 1965. Two years later, a maturer Ali refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War, laudably costing him his freedom.

This week’s column was meant to be about a leftwing table tennis player who I happened to meet earlier this year. I then realised – and he concurred – that by printing his name and espousing his thoughts it might compromise his position of employment.

The default 21st century political position is not yet common sense and kindliness it would appear, but something still aligned to the interests of the day – a never-ending track to nowhere.

Perhaps one day change will come after the remaining dogs are driven out. Perhaps.

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