The Sporting Dalrymple

Gavin (who runs the excellent Dalrymple forum that we all should be reading) reminded us of this wonderful, old quote from TD and asked if we remembered the source.

My proudest sporting achievement was being sent off the rugby pitch by the referee — for reading on the field.

Can’t you just picture a teenaged Dalrymple in tweed coat adjusting his glasses and trying to read his beloved La Rochefoucauld while dodging the hulking brutes out on the pitch? After much digging, we found the quote amid his “Second Opinion” column from the 6 July 1996 Spectator, which we reprint here…


AS WE all know, British doctors have many deficiencies, among them a tendency to drink too much and a complete lack of interest in their patients. Now the British Medical Journal reveals an even more serious shortcoming: they don’t know how to treat sports injuries.

This is serious because there are 19 million sports injuries a year in England and Wales alone, according to the journal, half of them among 16 to 25-year-olds, that is to say among the flower of the nation’s future (it wouldn’t be half so bad if the injuries occurred to the over-75s). Understandably in the circumstances, the British Medical Association calls upon the Government to develop a policy for the provision of services for sports injuries.

Quite right too. But prevention is better than cure, as the BMJ is always telling anyone who’ll listen. It therefore seems to me perfectly obvious what the Government’s attitude towards sport should be: it should ban it outright. After all, what other activity which produces 19 million injuries per year would the BMJ be prepared to countenance?

I hope no one will produce in reply the hoary old chestnut that sporting activity is voluntary. This completely disregards the social pressure upon young people to indulge in sport, not to mention the pressure from sadistic sports masters at school to do so: just think of all the advertisements which use celebrated sportsmen to sell their products, the newspaper coverage and television time devoted to sporting exploits, and so forth. By contrast, is any information publicly available to make youngsters aware of the dangers they run by indulging in sport? I therefore call for a total ban on pro-sporting propaganda, whether on advertising hoardings or in the media of mass communication.

But far from discouraging unhealthy and dangerous sporting activity, the British Medical Association is actually encouraging people to take up sport! Think of what this means! At the present time, only a third of the population (at most) indulges in sport: if the rest of the population were to take the BMA’s advice seriously, the number of injuries in England and Wales would rise to 57 million per year. The average waiting-time in our casualty departments would rise from five hours to at least ten.

In the very same issue of the BMI, the chairman of the BMA council, Dr Sandy Macara, was quoted as saying in a recent speech to a public health conference, ‘Every sector of human activity [should] be addressed in terms of health’, and yet he completely ignored sport as a cause of more injury even than bicycling without helmets, a feckless activity which the BMA would like to see outlawed.

Some might argue, of course, that sport — while bad for the health — is good for the character. This, I must say, has not been my impression of sportsmen: professional footballers, for example, have not on the whole been conspicuous for their moral grandeur. And my limited excursions onto the playing-fields, a long time ago now admittedly, impressed me rather with the psychopathic tendencies of those who excelled upon them. My proudest sporting achievement was being sent off the rugby pitch by the referee — for reading on the field. Little did I know then that I was not only escaping back into the warmth, but preserving my health.

Theodore Dalrymple, THE SPECTATOR, 6 July 1996

2 thoughts on “The Sporting Dalrymple

  1. james barker

    The good doctor writes irresistably but im not to be seduced this time.i too was sent off the rugby field aged 13…for swearing. I love sport and the way I can experience my self in a thoroughly embodied way and can leave at rest the front brain contimual chatter that constantly criticises compares and generally highjacks and holds me to ransome with a raft of self persecutaroy accusations. Myost recent sportimg celebration was joyriding aboard a volvoopen 70 surfing the atlantic rollers at 30 knots.these are 70 foot pared down built for speed deep water racing sail boats -and sailed like a racing dinghy .what a week ! The deep relaxation and profound connection with nature the primate like pleasure in mooving through and over a small boat while it is heaving and surging through curling seas with a power and urgency never befor experienced. I loved being part of a team as a guest/crew where cooperation teamwork came to the fore as a flawless aesthetic dance among the winches and ropes if only for moments.oh and then the fear or is it terror which struck one not one for fear as it seizes my system completely cant think cant speak but I could remember verse after verse of” the four and twenty vigins who came from inverness and when the party was over” as a great lump of water came over the windward rail and knocked me spralling into the pit. The driver caught one from a cross sea coming over the transom.trans atlantic in may? You bet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.