THOUGHTS ON EUROPE'S TRADITIONAL AND POPULAR SPORTS, GAMES AND RECREATIONS

Resolution sent to the European Parliament in 1991

 

There is a treasure that should be safe-guarded and promoted in Europe but which is at this very moment under threat - our tradition of popular sports, games and recreational past-times.
The ball in the air and bowls on the ground, the hand-to-hand competition of wrestling, the beat of the dance and the laughter of innocent amusement are older by far than the most ancient of monuments in our towns.
Although these traditions provide a treasure-house of social and human values, a laboratory for our future development, they are threatened directly or indirectly by attempts to standardise, to commercialise or to preserve them as in a museum which can only diminish our cultural diversity.
This situation requires political action, which is why we are presenting the following resolution.

 

A RESOLUTION CONCERNING EUROPE'S TRADITION OF POPULAR SPORTS, GAMES AND RECREATION PAST-TIMES

Introduction :

- The 1980s have seen a growing appreciation of Europe's cultural diversity, including her traditional games and past-limes.
This awareness of the importance of local and regional activities is greatly encouraged as towns and regions twin across national boundaries.

- Interest in this area of activity has been further boosted by the revolution in Eastern Europe, which drew much initial inspiration at the level of ' body-culture ' and sport. With the lessening in importance of state-sponsored sports, traditional popular games re-emerged as part of a general liberation of popular culture.

- Migration into and between the countries of Europe can result in conflicts when new-comers seek to preserve their cultural identity in their new homes in the face of attempts to persuade them to conform and integrate with their adopted society.

- International sport, standardised and media-promoted, has created major problems which are being discussed at the international level; drugs, hooliganism and excessive nationalism.
It is worth asking whether traditional popular sports could hold the answer, not just by reducing the problem but by introducing a new concept of social relations, founded on their local roots?

- In all these interlocking ways these sporting, competitive and physical activities reflect social and cultural trends of a more general nature.
The European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, founded in 1984, could, perhaps, be seen as a first step towards caring for an even larger cultural reality.

Effects and causes : the nature of the problem.

 

l - Why are these traditional popular games, despite their social and cultural importance, nowadays under threat ?

- Many have disappeared as the result of direct repression. They were condemned, especially, though not solely, in Eastern Europe, as old fashioned, obsolete, reactionary, separatist and incompatible with the state's desire to be in all things up to date.

- Indirect repression has been no less effective through :

  • Economic and social marginalisation
  • Suppression in schools and in the media
  • ppropriation of their special playing places for other purposes such as roads, building land and so on.
  • Giving them a deliberately low priority politically and financially.

- Some have been absorbed into the world of competitive sport, with its alien need to record results as statistics, in centimetres, grains, seconds or points. Reduced in this way to a 'monoculture', they lose their social and community value and even, in some cases, become mere commercialised spectator sports.

- Others have been forced to accept the limited role of helping to promote some other objective, as physical education in school or as part of the training for some other sport. The demotion of these games to such a subservient role reduces the cultural diversity of the world of sport.

- A too-strictly conservationist approach is equally damaging. It can lead to their being ' folklorised ' or' mummified ' as for a museum taking them out of their everyday social context and reducing them to mere tourist attractions. This ' fossilisation ' prevents the natural interplay of tradition and evolution that characterises a living sport.

 

2) In the face of such hostility and disparagement the future of these games and traditional sports takes on an undeniable social and cultural significance.

Let us explain :

- This games heritage lies at the very foundation of our respective cultural traditions. They come from the roots of our cultures.

- These indigenous past-times reflect the many-sidedness of European culture and give it a means of expression.

- The popularity of some games crosses state frontiers, demonstrating an international side to life, which pre-dates the idea of the nation itself.

- This exciting diversity raises interesting possibilities for cultural tourism. It offers the challenge of 'cultourism'.

- The equipment necessary for these games is usually cheap, so that anyone can affords to play them.

- These games provide a very varied training for social and community skills. They make opportunities for social contact and for the exchange of experiences across the generations. They enrich the life of the individual and the community alike and have to do with family as well as community and territorial identity, an organiser of non-working time. Seen as a counter to ' the problem of society' popular games provide a chance to reconsider the question of identification and alienation.

- Though their diversity games create good opportunities for learning. As a ' school for fife they can provide a model for schools of the future and for revising our educational practices.

- Popular games are equally important in economic terms. They not only contribute directly to the economy of their region but also, by harnessing a sense of regional identity and social solidarity, become a source of productive and intellectual energy.

- Trough their diversity, their non-conformism, these ' people's games ' serve as a laboratory for 'post-modemism; ' a testing ground of social ideas for the future.

- One must net forget that play, itself is fundamental to human culture. Homo ludens came before Homo sapiens. Games culture is, therefore, a human condition that we must preserve and develop carefully for our own sakes and for future generations.

- These popular traditional games illustrate vividly that :

  • . a ' local' attachment is a universal feeling.
  • . the ' global' only exists in terms of a popular and regional social reality.

 

3 - So adaptable to circumstances are these games that their variety defies any attempt at a rigid, comprehensive definition. There is no rigid dividing line between these popular games and, for example :

  • Traditional festivities
  • Regional sports
  • Dance culture
  • Forms of musical expression etc.

- This is why we have preferred to talk here of ' games culture ' to make clear the close inter-relationship between games and the community whose bonds are re-formed each time in a process of cultural renewal that resists any normal definition or generalised abstract classification.

- One further point; the care and promotion of these games can only happen within a general European framework of laws similar to those, which for example, protect wild animals (against cruel exploitation)

 

4) The support and development of these games calls for new experimental research into the philosophy of games and body culture, cultural sociology and social history, a popular research, a combination of the practical and theoretical approach .