First Published:The Forge, Vol. 1, No. 11, May, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In the past few years, players, even fans, being hit over the head with hockey sticks, and fights have become common occurences in the National Hockey League (NHL), World Hockey Association (WHA) and in the minor leagues.
In Toronto, three Philadelphia players and one from Detroit are facing criminal charges for fighting in recent hotly-disputed Toronto games. In Quebec, Marc Tardif, the WHA’s “outstanding player” this season, was beaten senseless by a Calgary player during a recent playoff game and had to be sent to hospital; in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the Remparts and the Castors, two Junior teams traded blows with fans!
Pretty far from “Olympic spirit”, isn’t it? But it’s not surprising. Capitalist sports – and hockey is no exception – have become good business. So good, in fact, that the club owners go so far as to pay their star players hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to attract the fans. And to keep up the hockey-lovers’ fervor, they encourage violence.
Each team has at least one or two “tough guys” who specialize in fighting. Some teams, like Philadelphia, are famous for their “rough play”. It seems that “that’s what people like”.
But not everyone. In a recent interview, Bobby Hull – who started a $2.5 million contract with the WHA in 1972 – denounced “the idiot owners, the incompetent coaches, the inept players (who) are dragging the game into the mud”.
And he added, “You talk to some of these idiots at the top and they say, ’It’s the nature of the game. It has always been that way and always will be’.” NHL President Clarence Campbell, who was implicated in the “Sky Shops Affair”, said himself that a few punches don’t do any harm.
But though the bourgeoisie may claim otherwise, violence is not “the nature of the game”. It is the nature of capitalism, the greed for profits, competition at all costs and the search for personal glory.
The proof is that under socialism, where communist principles are put forward, effort is made to eliminate violence in sports.
For example, since the Cultural Revolution the Chinese, according to China Reconstructs (May 1976) “have deepened their criticism of Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao’s revisionist line for sports.” They have made great efforts to eliminate the influence of “technique comes first” and “trophies above all”. Now they are respecting the policy of “friendship first, competition second.” The result has been a new spirit of sportsmanship.
And here’s the result of the revolutionary line as applied to hockey, during the Third National Games in China:
Kirin’s No. I hockey team met Heilungkiang province’s Kiamusze team in a closely-fought match to enter the semi-finals. Speeding toward the goal, one of the Kirin players fell and his puck was blocked by a Kiamusze player. The latter was about to hit the puck when he suddenly saw the face of the fallen player just behind it. He promptly moved the puck to one side even though this lost him a good chance to attack. match, [sic] the Kirin team took up the offensive and shot close up. The Kiamusze goalie fell as he tried to block the puck. To shoot the goal might have injured him, so instead of taking the puck again, the Kirin players stopped to help him up.
Such examples of fine sportsmanship and communist spirit are not unusual. We can see how degenerate capitalist culture is. in the age of imperialism – and how socialism sets things straight.
Violence in bourgeois sports is “normal”. This decay hits not only the “pro”, but also the young players. “The junior leagues, the minors, the kids’ hockey teams are doing the same thing, destroying hockey with brutality and savagery.” according to Hull.
The truth – something Bobby Hull would doubtlessly not dare to admit – is that capitalism destroys the physical and moral condition of the masses. It is only a minority that can get involved in sports and arc encouraged to stay in good shape, and the bourgeoisie encourages the maximum of violence in certain domains such as hockey.
Whereas in socialist countries, as the example of China proves, sports contribute concretely to the development of good physical and moral condition among the people.