The Impossibility of Neutrality

This week Paul Balm explains why he finds it impossible to stay neutral…

I was watching the darts on Saturday afternoon. I had no real reason for doing it, darts isn’t a sport that particularly interests me and I had no allegiance to either of the people playing to the point that I hadn’t even heard of either of them. Basically it was on the TV, I couldn’t be bothered to move off the settee to get the remote so I ended up watching it. Despite my total initial disinterest after a few minutes I realised that I had already decided who I wanted to win – the one that wasn’t wearing orange.

This got me wondering about whether it is possible , for me at least, to be entirely neutral when watching sport and I’ve got to admit that the more I think about it the more I’m convinced that I can’t. I used darts and the colour orange as an example and I know that there will be some of you reading this thinking that I chose that colour to make a cheap point but I didn’t (not really anyway) it would have been the same if that person had been wearing teal (oops), red and green or purple to name but a few.

It would be the same if I was watching hockey. I saw a Twitter hashtag this week that said #hockeyishockey and as far as I’m concerned that’s right. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s ENIHL or NHL, if the teams are fairly evenly matched then the chances are you’re going to get a watchable game. There are some exceptions but they only really prove the rule. I couldn’t watch any of these games at any level as a neutral though, at least not for long. I’d soon end up picking a side on the colour of their shirts, where they’re from (there are some places I like and some I don’t) or because one side has got a player I particularly don’t like because he did something or played for somewhere on their team. Once I’ve made my choice, no matter how irrationally or arbitrarily, that’s it I’m on their side for the length of the game. I wouldn’t say I support them that’s a wholly different kettle of fish and one that I’ll probably end up talking about just before the play-off weekend but for me, for that period of time I’m on their side.

Let me give you another couple of examples just to prove how irrational it can be and that it’s not just orange. If I was watching an NHL game containing the LA Kings I’d want them to lose simply because of those awful yellow and purple shirts that they used to wear. If it comes to Germany’s DEL then it would have to be Cologne to win as I’ve been there a couple of times and love the place (you can’t beat a beer or two in ‘Im Martin’s Winkel’ I’ll tell you).

Of course there are times when these decisions can clash and at that point there’s usual a lot of soul-searching to find what is best described as the least worse of the two. That can be hard I can tell you.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree or aren’t affected in the same way as me but I wonder deep down if they are really completely neutral. Some people say (or maybe it’s just the marketing campaigns) that sport is more interesting when you’ve got money on it. This weird system of choices is just my version of that.

Andy Warhol once said in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. Well it’s obvious that he’d never heard of Twitter or the Elite League. Given the way that team after team has been (usually) briefly feted as having already won the league maybe he should have said “every team in the Elite League will be guaranteed to win the league on Twitter for fifteen minutes”. Not as catchy I know but a touch more accurate. Obviously not all those claims are going to be accurate as only one team will win the league but if you string a few wins together then you’ll get the accolade. The problem is that there are just as many, maybe more, for whom the reverse is true, lose a few games and you’re out the race. There’s a lot of hockey still to be played and for the one happy team at the end of it there’ll be nine that aren’t. That’s sport and at least on this occasion I know that I won’t be neutral.

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