Clore Leadership Programme
Clore Leadership Programme

Making the Elite Universal: Why art should imitate sport

Clore 14 Fellow Jonny Kanagasooriam makes the case that when it comes to remaining relevant in a rapidly changing world, art should imitate sport

Jonny Kanagasooriam
Jonny Kanagasooriam

The dancers of the Bolshoi ballet watching Spain vs. Russia penalties during intermission

Bursting the Clore Bubble

It’s summer 2018, and the World Cup is in full swing. Every office has a sweepstake (“How is Iran doing?”). Nigeria shirts are in short supply and tournament brackets adorn the walls of every public house. The World Cup grips football obsessives, energises part-time supporters and enrages those who see it as either a colossal waste of time – or worse, an ethically bankrupt cash-cow controlled by demagogues and corporate sponsors. With every card, through-ball and goal, the world watches, gasps, groans and cheers at the greatest global sporting event outside the Olympics.

Except on the final Clore residential

In our fortnight’s schedule, designed to give maximum space to both individual and collective, one of the world’s biggest sporting events plays second fiddle to our personal development and self-reflection on the past year.  The carefully curated schedule ends 15 minutes (“You don’t mind missing kick-off, right?”) into the start of every evening game and workshops run through the afternoon fixtures.[1] Consumed by all things football for the past fortnight, the absence of watching, or at least closely monitoring every game, leaves a sense of dislocation from the collective experience. However, this sense of separation is not shared by many of my Clore fellows. They are in a completely different cultural space. I get raised eyebrows, chuckles, quizzical looks and in some cases genuine confusion about why I am so emotionally invested in 22 blokes kicking faux-pigskin around Putin’s backyard, every apathetic glance loaded with an assumption:

This is not relevant to us. We have better things to do.

Yet, by the time we reach the Columbia vs England penalty shootout, the World Cup has managed to seep into the Clore collective consciousness. The most indifferent of the cohort now stood alongside rabid advocates in sporting communion. Even here in the Clore bubble, the tournament has permeated the lives of non-believers, who suddenly feel part of a movement. Cheering on elite practitioners of a discipline they have no interest in 323 days of the year. Barriers to entry not broken but made semi-permeable.

In the following days, questions are asked, names are referenced, kick off times adhered to, quizzical looks evolve into questions, a meme or two is shared. Even here, where no time was given, we have found time for sport, exposure evolving into an emotional connection. It’s a process that most of us are familiar with: the power of sport to subsume all other culture, driving collective effervescence and celebration, be it the Olympics, Wimbledon or even the Super Bowl. Whilst much of the current engagement in the World Cup is driven by a deep sense of national surprise and goodwill towards our overachieving team, this is just the thin end of the wedge. Where other cultural activities fail, sport succeeds. It has an ability to become part of our lives, be it for a night, month, year or lifetime, regardless of geography, social demographic, access or, as it would happen, pre-existing interest.

Sport seems to always be relevant. How?

[1] I must add that due to strong leadership and excellent facilitation, the schedule was amended to accommodate England matches (thank you Clore!)


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