Judy Murray, mother of the admirable tennis champions, has criticised the practice of non-competitive sports days in primary schools, saying that it is important to instil the will to win in our young people. Cue the impression that our entire culture is in danger of being undermined by a cult of softness.
In reality what these teachers are attempting is a very modest counter to a Thing that utterly dominates and pervades our social landscape. The Thing is most obvious in the way competitive elite sport has such a ferocious grip on media output, the way elite sport is given such an elevated po-faced seriousness, and in the way that the only real physical expression or exercise that counts is the ability to fling something further than anyone else. The Thing is embedded in the heart of our conventional and destructive economics, in the infantile my-aircraft-carrier-is-bigger-than-yours of the warmongers and their fat-cat backers. It is the engine that drives the nasty nationalisms and it even reaches into parts of the social body that should know better, in Leeds Piano Competitions and Young Trads of the Year. At the bottom of it all is a huge failure of the imagination, the inability to conceive of anything apart from Me Up and You Down as the spur to fine work and fine achievement.
Perhaps most seriously of all, the Thing has enabled humanity to see the rest of the natural world as our key competitor and as something to be conquered, dominated and domesticated. In doing so the Thing is on track to kill us all. So fair play to the teachers who are putting up that little question mark.
Of course, Judy obviously doesn’t live by a crude competitive ideology herself, given that everyone loved Andy because he epitomised the polite but gawky, well brought-up teenager that you would get in on a Friday to babysit.