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Sport and Capitalism: meeting of the 17 Group

The November meeting of the 17 Group will take place on Wednesday the 6th ofNovember at 7 pm. It will be held in unit 6 at 20 Drury St West End. The speaker will be Sport scholar Dr Greg Mallory, and his topic will be
Sport and Capitalism.

Here is Greg’s summary:
With the Rugby League World Cup being held in Britain in November and the Ashes series beginning in Brisbane towards the end of the month it is opportune for the 17 Group to discuss the role sport plays in our capitalist society. The presentation will be based on Professor Tony Collin’s book Sport in Capitalist Society. Collins argues that ‘modern sport is as much a product of capitalism as the factory, the stock exchange or the unemployment line’ and that ‘men and women play sport but not under circumstances of their own choosing’. Collins contends that sport has been shaped by political and economic circumstances such as the French Revolution, the rise of modern nationalism and imperialism, the Russian Revolution, the Cold War and the neo-liberalism agenda. Sport has had a symbiotic relationship with the media from Georgian England to the rise of Murdoch and has been an integral part of the globalisation of capitalism.
The talk is designed to open up a discussion on some of the main issues that Collins develops i.e. pre-capitalist games; Rugby school, muscular Christianity and the rise of amateurism; the rugby ‘split’; nationalism and sport; race and gender and sport; drugs and sport; socialism and sport; Packer and Murdoch’s attempt to ‘take over’ certain sports; sport in the globalised community.
The talk will also discuss the rise in participant sports in Australia such as women’s cricket, touch football and netball.
Tony Collins is Professor of History and Director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. He is the author of several books, including Rugby’s Great Split, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain and A Social History of English Rugby Union, and was a lead consultant for the 2012 BBC radio 4 series Sport and the British.
Short biographical notes on the speaker:
Greg Mallory has been involved in sport from his days at St Laurences College in the early 1960s. He has played cricket, rugby league, touch football and run fun runs and half marathons for over 30 years. He has been an avid follower of cricket and rugby league since the 1950s and in 2009 published a book on rugby league titled Voices from Brisbane rugby league: oral histories from the 50s to the 70s. Greg has presented papers on rugby league at sports history conferences in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Huddersfield. From 2000 to 2010 he was the Media Officer for the Queensland Secondary Schools Rugby League. Greg is President of the Brisbane Labour History Association and has written books on trade unionism; Uncharted Waters: Social Responsibility in Australian Trade Unions published in 2005 and with Pete Thomas The Coalminers of Queensland, Volume 2, The Pete Thomas Essays published in 2007.
Well, OK, I hear you thinking, what could a classic egghead like Leon Davidovich have to offer on a topic like this, even from the careless adolescent years when he was still just Bronstein? You obviously haven’t read Robert Elias’s Leon Trotsky: The Missing Years.
Elias reveals a lot of stuff that didn’t make it into most of the history books. While it’s well known, for example, that even in the early 1920s there were some seriouspolitical differences between Stalin and Trotsky, I’ll bet you didn’t know about their differences about lapta, the Russian forerunner of baseball. Here are some quotes from Elias’s groundbreaking essay:
“But perhaps more important were the personal quarrels, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous. Leon and Josef favored different lapta teams, for example. While perhaps trivial, their debates were nevertheless often heated. This was only intensified by the hours Stalin kept; his noisy, late-night, often drunken, returns to the Kremlin would routinely wake Trotsky from what little sleep he was getting in those hectic days.”
What’s this “lapta” you’re asking. Elias is on the case:
“Although at times, the Soviets had urged their populace to reject baseball because it was an American game, the Russians nevertheless took credit for originally inventing the sport. It was claimed that a Russian village game, lapta, had been played for centuries and was the forerunner of more modern baseball, brought to the U.S. through Russian settlements on the West Coast of North America in the eighteenth century.
The writer, John Leo, dates lapta’s arrival in the U.S. a bit later, in the 1840s. Leo cites a story from Pravda that claims that lapta and baseball were probably stolen by a Marine guard at the U.S. embassy in Moscow who scurrilously wheedled crucial lapta information out of an unwary Russian cook during an evening of illicit and probably drug-induced lovemaking. . .
Whichever version you believe, the New York Times reported on February 17, 1935 that the Soviet Government, apparently seeking to reclaim its ownership of the game, decided today to sponsor a program for introducing baseball throughout the Soviet Union as a national sport. Zoss and Bowman claim that . . .for whatever reasons, nothing seems to have come of it.
But this vastly underestimates the real story. Indeed, a game resembling baseball had long been played in the Soviet Union. What historians often ignore is that one of those who most excelled at the sport was none other than Leon Trotsky, who first starred on his school team in the small town of Yanovka in the Ukraine, and then played semi-pro lapta in various leagues around the country. Trotsky was also a fierce advocate for lapta as the Soviet national sport. He believed it was the only game with real, revolutionary potential. He was not alone. John Leo reminds us of Vladimir Lenin’s famous admonition about the Russian psyche: Anyone who wishes to understand the Russian soul had better learn lapta. “
So, if this, against all your expectations, is the one to get Leon finally to front, expect, oh yes, to hear a fair bit about the ‘transitional program’ needed to move on from capitalist sport in general, but also some fond old player’s reminiscences about a game you’d never even heard of till now. This could be cool man. Come just in case.

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