After this year?s ?summer of sport?, our own season is getting under way. Perhaps that makes it the perfect moment to consider what constitutes a sport and to what extent gameshooting matches this definition.
My dictionary ? admittedly not the latest edition ? gives several definitions for ?sport?, including: ?fun or diversion?, ?a pastime of an outdoor or athletic kind, a meeting for such events? and ?a sportsman or good fellow?. ?Recreation? suggests a pastime, which may be passive. So, we may deduce that sport involves activity, usually of a physical type, though not necessarily involving actively all who attend.
During the 2012 Olympic Games, much was made of the fact that within the UK many sports were codified and given rules that were generally accepted elsewhere in the world. These rules have undergone much amendment over the years and governance has been ceded to many international federations. By contrast, gameshooting has never had any hard-and-fast rules, though it has been governed by a considerable body of lore. Most of us grow up with Mark Beaufoy?s lines in our ears: If a sportsman true you?d be/Listen carefully to me./ Never, never let your gun/ Pointed be at anyone;/ That it may unloaded be/ Matters not the least to me.
Sports that involve rival individuals or teams are described as ?competitive?. Today, the rivalry that is said to have existed a century ago between certain members of the Edwardian big Shots, either for individual performance or the productivity of their estates, is thankfully absent. Nonetheless, competition does continue as keepers seek to outwit such forces of nature as the wind to make birds fly in a particular direction, or Guns seek to improve their cartridge-to-kill ratio.
Few would now describe the slow, low-flying pheasants of the pre-World War I era as ?sporting?, yet those who participated in the great battues of those days were held up as leading sportsmen. Today, many of us use the word ?sporting? to describe pheasants that are very high.
Competition with nature is also to be found in stalking, where one animal (Homo sapiens) seeks to outwit another that possesses superior senses of hearing and smell. Similarly, the angler?s efforts to entice his quarry are a match of unequal opponents. The sportsman accepts these inequalities with good grace, thereby falling into the ?good fellow? definition.
Another word associated with gameshooting is ?entertainment?. I found the definitions ?amusement? and ?public display? in the dictionary. Certainly, we enjoy our shooting and are amused, too, in the sense of being diverted from our day jobs.
When shooting involves corporate hospitality on a lavish scale, I wonder whether ?sport? is the proper description. However, if most of the criteria by which we define sport are being met, then this word is still appropriate. High costs do not preclude sport, nor does low cost guarantee its presence. Those who enjoy roughshooting or participate in DIY syndicates are just as entitled to be called sportsmen as those whom Dame Fortune enables to participate in days where the bag is counted in several hundreds, the support team of beaters, loaders and others reckoned in dozens and the refreshments match those seen at the finest Michelin-starred restaurant. Envy should not be a factor in determining how we view another person?s sport.
As the memory of Olympic and Paralympic achievements begins to fade and we start to focus on autumn sunlight reflected on the cock pheasant?s plumage against a background of autumn leaves, let us look forward to those elements which are common in all sports ? enjoyment, purpose and exercise. Practising responsibly, gameshooters may be as proud of their chosen sport as are the participants in any other.