And then there was blood

How do you define a real sport? Where do you draw the line between a sport and ...hmmm... blatant brutality and barbarism? We often demarcate sports using the familiar words like "contact" and "non-contact" - as in rugby and tennis respectively. There's also the "extreme" and the "not-so-extreme" classes, although I wonder if "humane" and "inhumane" may sometimes be a lot more effective, truthful and suitable categorizations of certain sports - like boxing and wrestling, in which blood becomes more a sign of surrender and defeat than happenstance.

Yesterday night, while waiting for the Manu/Namibia game to start, Dearie and I were watching the Animal Planet Channel which was showing a documentary on people living under somewhat extreme conditions - from the Inuit people of the Arctic regions to the natives of the African grasslands, to the snake hunters of Indonesia. It was quite informative to learn of their unique formidable challenges and methods of survival and adaptation. But blood - because of its graphic depiction by the documentary - quickly became the subtext for us.

First the Inuits who ate raw - hence bloody - fermented birds as a staple food. Then there were the Indonesians whose own dainty was snake blood. The third bloody scene was from a brutal and violent sport, yes a sport, of stick fighting by African tribal men. The game involved two combatants who tried to outhit each other with long sticks, while cheered on by their clansmen. At the end of the main match, the loser was bleeding from his head and face, and the victor was hailed and carried on his teammates' shoulders back to the village.

Throughout all these blood scenes of the documentary, Dearie and I were silently repulsed with occasional whispered disapprovals. For the food scenes, our reactions were understandably passive, because of our own culinary - mostly cultural - orientation, like raw fish and other sea foods.  The stick fight, on the other hand, was incredulous. We wondered how a sport could be intentionally brutal, violent and bloody. The primitiveness however of the tribe helped ease our guarded acceptance of the cutthroat game. But our disbelief was quickly dismissed thirty minutes later by rugby's own bruising and bloody scenes. Ironically, we were more tolerant and accepting of the close-up shot of the Namibia player who had blood dripping down his face and from his nose. Some of our children sighed in bemusement then quickly followed by schadenfreudic laughter. I immediately commented that blood is part of the physical nature of rugby, especially from wounds and cuts inflicted by the spikes of the cleats and of course from headbutting.

A bloody game
Rugby is sometimes termed as a "real man's game"- albeit debatable on some levels within the totality of sports. The stylemark apparently stems from the physicality and the absence of protective gear especially compared to its American football counterpart. And since some sports can be treated as "friendly warfare", brutality and savagery are sometimes justified. Rugby therefore appeals to - and appeases - some visceral animal instincts and vicious slaughterous behavior in all of us - men especially.

I couldn't help mentally superimposing the image of the bleeding African grassland native onto the close-up shot of a more modern African rugby player. The similarities within the vicious context of some sports were inevitable.

And so as we watched the transition - from a more primitive sport of stick fighting to the modern game of rugby - I had the feeling that although man may have changed and advanced in many aspects of becoming civilized, he still has not progressed much in sports, some of which are still bloody, cruel and vicious. Boxing and wrestling immediately come to mind, but if not, then there's always the trending ultimate and extreme cagefighting to which rugby pales in comparison for brutality. Comparatively speaking, I wonder if that's why some people - like me - still prefer rugby, even if there is ...................... Blood.

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