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"I love the sense of satisfaction that I get when I’ve done a swimming workout or race, and know that I gave my whole being and heart to God in every moment of the swim. It’s the best worship I can offer him."

Penny Heyns

The spirit of the game

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The spirit of the game, Mihir Bose, London. Constable 2012. ISBN: 978-1-84901-504-2

Mihir Bose’s book sets out “to explain how modern sport originated, how it has changed and what these changes mean”. The author continues: “I was keen to analyse not only how sport has become big business but also how this change has altered the original concept of sporting spirit and how sport resonates with society”.

The book is something of a mixed bag.


The author’s account of the importance and development of cricket in India is captivating. He suggests that cricket is popular in India because “cricket with its intricate rules was seen as a game that could promote order in a society so fond of chaos.”

His account of how Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, effectively invented sports sponsorship, the role of Bernie Eccleston, Kerry Packer and Mark McCormack in changing the nature of sport and the impact of TV and gambling on sport are very readable. His observations and analysis are often thought-provoking. “They induced sport to join the cult of Mammon, to seek and accept huge sums of money, but not the responsibilities which come with them”.

He sums sport up: “Sport is simultaneously a global phenomenon and a local and personal one. It is simultaneously a gigantic commercial business and a gigantic voluntary enterprise. It is both dependent on government and a major influence on public policy.”


The book seemed to fall between the stools of journalism and academia. I am sure the author feels that it goes well beyond journalism but the style of unsubstantiated assertion and the total lack of sources and footnotes disqualify it from any academic credibility.

A quote on the back cover from David Welch was helpful: “Mihir’s inside knowledge is unsurpassed”. His account of being invited into Nelson Mandela’s home and some of this accounts of the development of the IPL are excellent examples of this. On the other hand, the reader might wonder how he knew what the founder of Adidas said to members of the Olympic committee or conversations that took place within FIFA etc when he was not present. In reality Mihir Bose is someone outside of professional sport looking in.

At times I felt the evidence was twisted to suit an argument. For example, he used the recall of Ian Bell by MS Dhoni to show that “even at the highest level, in cricket there is still a premium on honesty”. Yes, if you ignore Hansie Cronje, Salman Butt etc

He refers to how cricket’s “appeal system itself remains a triumph of English values” suggesting that “nothing could better illustrate that there is a certain underlying moral principle” with no reference to the referral system which has changed the appeal system and the role of the onfield umpires totally.

Again he states “Indeed rugby players from the Irish Republic even tour abroad as the British Lions, as if all of Ireland was still part of a British nation”. The argument is somewhat undermined by the fact that the name of the Lions is actually “British and Irish Lions”.


The book is undermined by a number of errors.

1 Arguing correctly that the football World Cup has been dominated by Europe and Latin America, he states “No nation from another continent has even got to the final match, nor the semi-finals (ignoring the very special case of the USA coming third in the first competition), let alone won it”. South Korea 2002?

2 “Jesse Owens received no reward in the United States for his exploits in Berlin. He was snubbed by President Roosevelt as thoroughly as he was snubbed by Hitler”. Bose perpetuates the myth that Hitler snubbed him. A recent book quotes Owens “Hitler did not snub me”. (The 100 greatest Olympians and Paralympians, Nick Callow, London, Carlton, 2011). Neil Duncanson calls it "pure

invention by the American press”. (The fastest men on earth. The story of the men’s 100 metres Olympic champions, Neil Duncanson, London, Andre Deutsch, 2011)

3 “In 1911, Winston Churchill had banned the entry of the provocative black boxing champion Jack Johnson”. While Churchill was opposed to the fight between Jack Johnson and Bombadier Matt Wells, the fight was prevented from taking place because the Metropolitan District Railway Company, owners of the freehold of Earls Court (the venue for the fight) obtained a court order. Churchill did not ban it. (See S Mews 'Puritanicalism, Sport and Race: A Symbolic Crusade of 1911' in Popular Belief and Practice, Studies in Church History Vol 8, G J Cuming and D Baker, eds (Cambridge: CUP, 1972. FBMeyer, A Chester Mann, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1929 etc).

4 He states that in Berlin 1936, athletes were better housed that in any previous games. Maybe the men were but Dorothy Tyler told me that women were treated as second class citizens.

5 “Maharaja Porbandar… played in the first four matches in1932 making 0, 2, 0, 2, 2, and averaging 0.66”. Isn’t six divided by five 1.2?

6 “On the day of the final he [Mandela] famously wore the green Springbok jersey with Pienaar’s number 9 on it”. Perhaps he was looking at the number upside down?

While some of these errors are quite trivial, this reviewer was left wondering if these facts were not checked, can I be sure that statements, in areas where I have less knowledge, are correct

Thomas Arnold

In the introductory chapter, the book devotes several pages to Tom Brown’s School Days, the novel by Thomas Hughes published in 1857. His comment “in order to make Arnold the centre of his sporting memoir, Hughes, like a modern spin doctor, completely ignored all these inconvenient facts” makes the book seem like a political tract rather than a novel.

He sees Baron Pierre de Coubertin almost as Thomas Arnold’s heir – for some strange reason he refers to de Coubertin as “Coubertin” throughout. “Hughes’ big idea was in the private realm, that sport develops character and playing sport makes you not only fitter but a different, better person. ... Coubertin’s big idea was in the public realm that sport could transmit values within and between nations through regular international competition”.

Thomas Arnold and Thomas Hughes’s novel become a kind of leitmotiv throughout the book.

“the rise of sport in the Middle East had nothing to do with the sporting vision of Thomas Arnold”

“many Indians echoed the words of Tom Brown to his friend Arthur and the master that cricket is ‘more than game, it’s an institution’”.

“These businessmen almost to a man, spoke of cricket in language that could have been borrowed from Thomas Hughes”.

Virenchee Sagar, when he spoke of the game you felt he might have been at school with Tom Brown.

Modi [Lalit Kumar Modi, one of the architects of the Indian Premier League], who appears unacquainted with Tom Brown’s Schooldays”.

“That the spirit of sport can mean so much to a modern professional cricketer is testimony to the enduring values created by Thomas Hughes and Pierre de Coubertin”.

There were so many references of this nature and decided to consult the book’s index to get the full list of references to Tom Brown. For some reason there were only one reference each to Arnold, Hughes and Tom Brown’s School Days after the first chapter. I noted 20 and there were more, none of which are included in the index.

A fundamental issue is that I am not sure how much Mihir Bose understood of “Muscular Christianity”. There seems to be an assumption that Muscular Christianity was “Evangelical” whereas it was in reality much more in the liberal wing of the Anglican church. The misuse of the word evangelise in the phrase “seeking to evangelise British sports among the natives” and the reference to “YMCA’s determination to spread sport in China” confirms an impression of confusion as to what the Christian view of sport in the Victorian area was and how it influenced sport.

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