Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Wittgenstein, Bridge and Sport

There is a Judicial Review underway around whether Bridge should be classified as a sport or not.

My initial thought – as I’m sure would be the initial thought of anyone reading the article – is what would Wittgenstein say?

Sport England, taking its lead from the Council of Europe, defines a sport as an "activity aimed at improving physical fitness and well-being, forming social relations and gaining results in competition".

The later Wittgenstein wouldn’t countenance that any definition or analysis of the word “sport” (indeed, any word, meaning or function) that would act as a ‘rule’ that would satisfactorily cover all eventualities – classifying an activity in or out. 

Even if such rules were theoretically possible (which they aren’t), an ‘imposed’ definition such as the one from Sports England would not do justice in many cases as to how we actually use the term – what we do or do not in fact use “sport” in relation to. 

It makes sense to call Snooker a sport, but am not sure how much it is “aimed at improving physical fitness” or successful at doing so, in comparison to SAS training, which would not generally be thought of a sport

There is no “right” answer but nonetheless how we use the term (according to Wittgenstein) forms a ‘grammar’ of the term.  The grammar does firstly, mean that someone would look at you weirdly if you said “Pencil is a sport” – you would know that they cannot mean the same thing as you or that they are talking nonsense.  Secondly, it establishes some things as more representative of “sport” with others bearing more or less family resemblance to it.  Third, it will establish associations and disassociations with other concepts such as “hobby”, “leisure activity” and “game” 

Sports England argue: 

It has argued that bridge is no more of a sporting activity than "sitting at home, reading a book".

First thing, why couldn’t reading a book at home be a sport?  One could certainly come up with a scenario (e.g. multiple people reading the same book as fast as they can against the clock, and then answering 20 questions about it) where it might more plausibly thought of as so.

As such, Wittgenstein says there is no reason why one couldn’t call Book-Reading a sport.  Yet, they are probably right that the family resemblance is more like a second cousin-twice removed than an identical twin. Comparing bridge to book reading is a good rhetorical point, therefore, but probably a disservice (Bridge does at least have competition, for example)

My thoughts, in brief, then are:

  1. If you were going to call Bridge a sport, first you would have to admit that it is not an archetypal sport; and second, go on to explain its family resemblance
  2. Ultimately, if you were discussing it in the pub, people would “know what you mean” but someone else might be “you must be kidding, mate”.  Ultimately though, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other
  3. Bridge players are therefore entitled to call it a sport but not sure they can simply do so because they want some funding from Sport England if they didn’t already.
  4. Judges are entitled to decide whether there is any legal reason why it is somehow wrong to deny them funding (but seems dubious if on the basis that they are the right people to “define” the word(even if that were possible)
  5. Sports England are too entitled to define who gets funding based on their mission and mandate, however defined, and this can well exclude bridge.  This though would not seem to depend on the meaning of a word.

If you were to press me though, Bridge isn’t a sport

No comments: