Seghir Lazri works on the theme of social vulnerability of athletes. In this column, he takes a few pictures of sport through the social sciences. How the social explains sport, and vice versa.
The measures taken following the appearance of the Covid-19 in Europe have paralyzed all high-level sport activity and containment has prohibited mass sports. These restrictions do not prevent you from practicing a physical activity at home, or even from running outside, of course respecting the health rules laid down. This unprecedented situation implicitly invites us to rethink our physical and sporting activity. Therefore we ask ourselves: what benefit can we derive from a sporting activity during a period of confinement?
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Return to self
First, the body of knowledge about the sporting phenomenon reminds us that sport is broadly divided into two systems. If modern sport is characterized by confrontation with others through competition leading to a hierarchy of individuals, it is also a means for individuals to confront themselves. This second aspect, as sociologist Paul Yonnet recalls, calls on individuals to engage in a “Private, intimate competition, of which they are the only judges”, measuring “Both figuratively and literally”. The current situation actually favors this aspect of the sporting phenomenon by inviting us to practice an activity to keep us in shape, while limiting our travel and our contacts. Thus the obsession with performance is reduced and the idea of merit is detached from the prioritization with others.
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From a more anthropological point of view, this very absence of competition and classification appears as a “Celebration of the body, sensations and emotions”, according to analyzes by researcher David Le Breton. Indeed, for the latter, the concern to measure oneself “And to do better than the last time” feeds “An intensity of being that is lacking in the ordinary”. And in this sense, claim this form of “duality” in front of you is to confront your “Personal resources, his sagacity, his resistance, his nerves”. It is sort of redirecting your efforts and better redefining them. This home practice therefore invites us to experience “Soothing our limits and taking flesh in our existence”.
The effort as moral elevation
These writings by David Le Breton concerning sport for oneself, one that one does at home or alone outdoors, also highlight the importance of effort and its nature. On this specific topic, the work of the philosopher Isabelle Queval informs us about the notion of “great effort”. According to her, the good effort would be an act which would be freed from the moral of the permanent surpassing of oneself, that is to say from the idea “To be somewhere where we are not”. In other words, the good effort would be an action far from the external forms of domination, allowing the individual to be accomplished “By finding oneself”. The period of confinement then appears to be an adequate time to reconnect with this idea of good effort, since this notion also refers to the conception that certain Greek and Roman thinkers had of physical exercise and more generally of human action.
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In a closed and finished world as the ancient philosophers and in particular Aristotle could conceive it, physical and intellectual perfection is synonymous with correspondence with nature and its order. Thus, physical exercise that allows you to be in good shape and in good health is fully recommended, but with a certain weighting relative to natural limits. Body activity must respond to a balance and “Should not be practiced at the expense of other disciplines”, as philosophy researcher Mael Goarzin reminds us. For the latter, physical exercise in the ancient world has no other objective than the virtue of the soul, in particular courage (a fair balance between fear and recklessness). Physical exercise, as the ancients recommended, should above all allow a moral elevation beneficial to the city. And in this sense doing sport in moderation, as we are forced to do in this period, also allows us to be more virtuous for society.
In short, confinement is an opportunity to practice sport differently. The injunctions specific to sports competition (especially with others) being absent, it is possible to turn to a less intense, more personal and deeper practice. In addition, the benefits both physical (magnified body for the summer) and psychological (feeling better) that we can draw allow an elevation of our condition and a better understanding of what surrounds us, in particular the current situation.