The Imperial Significance of Games
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Mar 1929, p. 133-148
Sclater, Reverend Dr. J.R.P., Speaker
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Item Type
Some personal background of the speaker. Interest in games and anxiety concerning the sporting spirit very deep-seated, and inherent in human nature; something which can be used in the spiritual realm for the binding and gathering together of people of different climes and different outlooks. Three great political problems which stand out as superior in their importance: the question of the increasing development of unity of a pacific British Empire; the development of a completer understanding and sympathy between that Empire and the United States of America; the creation of a right atmosphere between all the signatories to the League of Nations. The uniting force of our common love of games and in our attitude to them when we play them. Certain other attitudes which make up a total complex of a very fine kind. Some illustrations of these attitudes, and common bonds. Athletic ambassadors. The common spirit which we desire to be interpreted through common games if we are to understand each other. A look at curling and bowling. A discussion about ice hockey and lacrosse as developed in Canada. The development of amateur association. Interchange of sports between the Old Country and Canada: some suggestions.
Date of Original
28 Mar 1929
Language of Item
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Full Text
28th March, 1929

[Before the speaker was called upon, the members of the Club, at the suggestion of President Eayrs, stood a moment in silence, to honour the memory of the late Marshal Foch.]

DR. SCLATER was introduced by the Chairman and spoke as follows: First let me thank you very cordially for your kindness in inviting me to the honour and privilege of addressing you today. I have a singularly soft spot in my heart for the Empire Club, for it was in your kind and generous society that I first became acquainted with the public life of this city; and consequently as I now return into your comradeship I come with a very grateful feeling. It is with that memory, the memory of your generosity and kindness to me that I venture to address you today on the subject which our Chairman has announced.

It is, you might say, a somewhat slight subject, but nevertheless I think that it has for all of us its own importance, and at any rate I think that it is desirable that we who rejoice to live in Canada should have it in our minds and give to it due consideration, in order that Canada may claim and possess to the full that splendid and predominant position in the Empire which is hers alike by right of geography and the character and timbre of her people. But first allow me to make a word or two of personal apology. I can well imagine some one saying

to me, What do you, a mere minister, know about games? What is this Saul doing among the sporting prophets? Ministers anyway are a kind of third sex and they are not the sort of person who ought to have opinions on things that are robust and masculine. Well, by way of reply to that I should like to suggest two considerations. First this, that although I am broadbacked and fallen in the vale of years, the time was, sir, when I played games myself. (Hear,hear.) For about ten years I lived and breathed for cricket; for four years I toiled like a galley slave at the end of an oar on that muddy and winding river that is called the Cat. (Applause.) And then when one came to that inevitable time when the advancement of years, and possibly some slight development of girth made active participation in that kind of activity, if not impossible, at any rate inconvenient, for ten years I coached the Edinburgh boat as part of my pastoral duties-(laughter and applause)-which, after all, is not such a bad record for a parson. (Hear, hear.) In the second place, we are reminded by the great Roman that anything that pertains to humanity should not be foreign to our interests, and I think that if that is true of any man it is true of a man whose business is at least as much with human nature as it is with divinity. And for these two reasons I hold myself to be acquitted from any charge in addressing you upon this subject today.

Certainly I think you will agree that interest in games, and anxiety concerning the sporting spirit is very deepseated, and indeed inherent in human nature. I have been told upon authority which I regard as credible, that you find something of the same attitude of mind even in those creations which we are inclined to describe as the lower creatures. One of the most truthful sections of the community with which I have ever come in contact is that splendid section who guard sheep. Few men in this world are wiser and more just in their judgments than shepherds, and a shepherd told me that twice in his life he had seen sheep in a solitary part of the lowlands of Scotland playing what was approximately Sir Roger de Coverley. (Laughter) He had seen them ranged in two rows, and a sheep from the top end detach itself and dance down between the middle of the two rows of its relatives and friends, being butted as it proceeded, until it reached the lower end where it took its place and proceeded to but the next comer. It may be that that sounds more like a fish story than a sheep story, but as I say shepherds are singularly truthful people. At any rate, whether the interest in games goes quite so far back in our ancestry as that, or not, I take it that we admit that we have a deep interest therein. I acknowledge for myself that I have gone out in inclement weather during these past months to obtain the earliest possible edition of a paper which would tell one about the test matches in Australia. (Applause.) And I further admit that last Saturday morning I interrupted the construction of a sermon to ring up one of the evening papers of this city in order to find whether or not that which one hoped for had happened in the annual aquatic test with Oxford. (Applause.) And whether it may be true or no that some here present have begun to forget the more vivid and strenuous activities of their youth, at any rate I take it that it is true that they are remembering some other activities to which they have become attached in later years. Looking around on this gathering, Sir, it is perfectly obvious that everybody here is very prosperous, that this is a club composed of heads of departments, men who have the control of their own time, and I take it that some times they have mishandled the words of the poet and have spoken to themselves somewhat after this manner:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead As never to himself hath said, I'm sick of working for my bread, I'll go and play at golf instead.

(Applause and laughter.)

So I take it that we are all agreed that there is a deep-seated enthusiasm for some kind of alleged athletic activity in the hearts of all of us, and that we look upon this as a matter which should be regarded with due seriousness.

Now when we find something in which people of all ages and different climates are so deeply interested, when we find the amount of time and attention which is given to it, it suggests to us surely that there is herein something which can be used in the spiritual realm for the binding and gathering together of people of different climes and different outlooks. We may find in it one of those silken bonds of which we hear so much, and which we describe as being superior in their strength to other kinds of bonds which appear on the surface to be more vital and more mighty.

There are, I think, three great political problems which stand out as superior in their importance to all the other problems which can attach themselves to our minds. In the first place there is the question of the increasing development of unity of a pacific British Empire. In the second place there is the development of a completer understanding and sympathy between that Empire and the United States of America. And in the third place there is the creation of a right atmosphere between all the signatories to the League of Nations. And I hold that in regard to all these three imperious demands of our time, it is the development and the strengthening of the silken bonds that is of the chief importance. We do not need to go very far to discover how extraordinarily strong, how unimaginably strong are these said incalculable bonds, the bonds created by imponderable things. Take for instance an illustration from a completely different region; take an illustration from the ecclesiastical life of our time. One of the facts which impresses itself on the mind of a minister of another communion is the extraordinary solidarity and continuousness in movement and in outlook of that great and splendid communion whose history is inwrought with so much that is best in the history of our people, I mean the Church of England. One does wonder sometimes how it is that a church which is a comprehensive church, holding within its communion men of extraordinarily diverse views, retains itself in the unity in which it is retained. And I take it that one cause for that-no doubt there are many others-is a common loyalty to, and love of the Book of Common Prayer. There you have one of those imponderable silken bonds. We all know perfectly well that that which binds us together ultimately in one worldwide empire is a thing that is as imponderable as silk; it is the fact of a British crown, the common love and loyalty that we have thereto. (Applause.) And we can thank God that that bond is a bond that is strengthening every day, is one that was never mightier than it is this minute, when we all owe allegiance to that splendid, simple, brave English gentleman for whose health and well-being we all sincerely pray. (Applause.) And we can rejoice. also that we may believe that the bond will not be lessened, in our time at any rate, for when it shall please God to take His Majesty to Himself we may still believe, as we surely hope, the Prince. Charming will hold us together in an allegiance no less strong, in a loyalty no less sincere. (Applause.) There can be no question, whatever, Mr. President and Gentlemen, about the strength of these imponderable uniters; and when we find that they are so strong it is surely a wise thing for all of us to endeavour that any other uniters of the kind shall be discovered, and when discovered, developed.

My point today is that in our common love of games, and in our attitude to them when we play them, we have one of these uniting forces, and that of the strongest kind. Now observe that the real uniting force is not in the game itself but in the mental attitude which the game produces, although, indeed, the game is singularly important as being the channel by which that spiritual unity is enabled to be established, and to move from one people to another. But ultimately it is the mental attitude which is produced by a game, which is the real uniting force. Now the mental attitude which we of the British Commonwealth of Nations possess is one of which I think we may be rightly and reasonably proud, and about which we do not in the least need to be modest. I think perhaps the very greatest compliment that was ever paid to Britain was paid by a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He was asked what it was in that University that chiefly impressed him, and he said, what chiefly impresses me is that here there are three thousand young men who would rather lose a game than win it unfairly. (Applause.) Along with that splendid attitude toward the way in which games should be played, there go certain other attitudes which make up a total complex of a very fine kind.

In the first place, we would rather lose a game than win it unfairly. In the second place, we would rather have respect to the spirit of the law than to its letter, in playing the games. In the third place, we would exact from ourselves and all associated with us a spirit of absolute obedience to the authorities set over us for the moment, never for a moment questioning the umpire. In the fourth place we would, so to speak, play the ball where it liesan entirely admirable attitude to have in respect to all life's difficulties. In the fifth place we would desire to be among that company who, having started either in a race or a game, go on if we can till we drop dead. (Applause) In the sixth place we would hope that that spirit would be developed amongst us which is not so very greatly concerned for itself, so long as the side on which we are is successful. (Applause.) And in the seventh place, and this is not quite so obvious, but I believe it to be true of the attitude which is finally summed up in the words "the attitude of a sportsman", we would, when occasion arises, make it perfectly manifest that games are games and that they are second to duty. I do not know, sir, whether our people throughout the world have realized the significance of the example which has been set us by one young gentleman in the empire recently on that very point. I do not suppose there is a more complete sportsman than the Prince of Wales; I do not suppose there is anyone who loves playing games for their own sake more than he does, and yet because of the sickness that has fallen upon the King, new responsibilities having thereby been laid upon him, he has taken farewell of his horses, said good-bye to some of his faithful friends-(Applause)-and there seems to be an epitome of the spirit which we desire to develop-doing all things joyously and gladly when they can be done, but realizing that at the end of the day these things are games, and that life contains something that is more clamant and more serious.

Now when we find a spirit like that, it is surely a very desirable thing, both for ourselves and for the world, that that spirit should be above all things prized, retained, and developed, and that we should use it for the binding of races together in a common brotherhood. Obviously it can so bind. Clearly it creates a common mental temper in which the great problems of business or professional or political life can be faced. When you get that attitude of mind common amongst the statesmen of the world, I should imagine that some of the difficulties which arise would be found at least to be soluble. It gives the people a common spiritual platform, and it enables them to speak also in a kind of spiritual shorthand, so that immediately, whatever words they may use, they may understand the significance that is behind. I could give you instance after instance of the extraordinary effect of that spirit, and of interest in the games through which it is expressed in solving different public difficulties, in helping not only individuals but indeed a nation through difficult times. We all remember that very trying moment a few years ago in British history when under the threat of the general strike it looked as if we were to cease broadening down slowly from precedent to precedent, and take one of those violent movements to one side or to another which are fraught with so much peril for any nation who undertakes them. In the very middle of that strike it so happened that the Australians were over as a test cricket team and were engaged to play at Nottingham against England in a test match. It was discovered that there was not sufficient accommodation at the Trent Bridge ground for the crowds that were likely to attend, and by common consent on both sides, the strike was called off, and men worked fourteen hours a day to get that stand up for the test match. (Applause.) Unfortunately I believe that, with a fashion which is very unusual I may say, in England, it began to rain about an hour after the first ball was bowled, and there was no further cricket for the whole three days. However, the previous spirit had been displayed around the common interest of a test, and bitterness had disappeared.

I think it was Mr. C. E. Montague, that great English journalist and writer, whose passing was so great a loss to English letters recently, who said that if anybody proposed a revolution in England, he would have very carefully to time it. He could not possibly time it for the Derby, and above all he could not time it anywhere in the region when there was going to be played the final of the Association Football Cup ties. At these times the English people would be far too concerned with more serious things to bother themselves with a little thing like a revolution. (Applause.)

To take a wider illustration, I heard one with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes in the year 1925 in Edinburgh. Now in Edinburgh there are some very attractive people-(laughter)-there are even some intelligent people-(laughter)-but there are some people who have not yet completed their education because there are a few people there that have not visited this side of the water. I happened one night to be in the society of several of these at a private dinner in a private house, and in the course of conversation they were asking me about Canada, and I was telling them-and I hope that your ears tingled with all the eulogistic things that one would say. And then I went on to talk of the United States of America, and the atmosphere changed; it became chilly and aloof; in a moment my hostess with that social alertness for which hostesses are distinguished, changed the subject to the weather or some suitable subject for discussion according to general repute in the land of Scotland. I could not get them to listen when I told them how charming and delightful and like ourselves the young Americans were, how delightful it was to go into the intellectual atmosphere of a University like Harvard, what it means to meet these splendid, cultured, understanding people. They simply would not listen.

And then a few days passed. A gentleman of the name of Bobbie Jones of Atlanta landed on British shores. He came up to St. Andrews; he I believe was not well so had been at least somewhat off his game. He came to St. Andrews and gave the Britishers a shot at him to see if they could wrest back from him the British open championship. You remember what happened. He had the positive impiety to go around the old classic course of St. Andrews under 70, a thing which is regarded as either miraculous or profane-(laughter)-by everybody who has ever played upon that course. He won the championship, I think, by seven strokes. What is more, be played all through with an entirely British phlegm, to prove that he was human, if all tales are true, by going into the Clubhouse after going around in 285 strokes, and was there violently sick from nervousness. That endeared him to the British people. He thereafter made a most delightful, charming, modest, and disarming speech, and did a thing which showed him to be possessed of diplomatic qualities of the highest order. They had made him a member of the Royal and Ancient Club at St. Andrews, and he handed the cup which he had won into the keeping of the Royal and Ancient, and thereby made his victory technically a Scottish one. (Laughter.)

A few days after that I was in the same house again to dinner, and we had hardly sat down when they said, Look here, what was that you were saying about the Americans the other day; they seem to be very decent chaps.

I say All hail to these athletic ambassadors; may their mashie shots lie stone dead, but may they live forever. (Hear, hear and applause.)

There are illustrations, gentlemen, of what can be done by the intercourse of people who talk the same sportsmanly shorthand, who have the same instinct and accent in the mind. And what we need to do, I think, is to see to it that the intercourse between men of that kind, as between different peoples, and most of all as between the peoples of the Empire, is increased and developed, to the highest possible degree. The moment a member of one people becomes an athletic household word amongst the members of another people, then something of unity has been forged between them. I do not think that we here in Canada can exaggerate the influence that has been exerted by such a young gentleman as Percy Williams of Vancouver-(Hear, hear and applause)-or by those two admirable sportsmen sitting with oars in their hands and making boats go speedily, Messrs. Guest and Wright of Toronto. (Applause.) But when you look at the whole field more largely, allowing the influence that these admirable young men have had, I as a Canadian citizen, with a genuine admiration and love for Canada, begin to ask myself one or two questions. I notice for instance that this silken bond is raised to its height in respect to Australia. Australia sends over its teams to play us at cricket, and thank goodness we have beaten them at last, because we have had an awful time with them for years. They send over teams to play with us at Rugby football. New Zealand does the same, with the emphasis on the football. The New Zealander is the most courageous natural Rugby football player that I have ever seen. South Africa, composed in part not of men of our own direct lineage, does the same thing. They are coming over next year, the South African cricketers; and the South African footballers also are amongst the most distinguished and powerful that you could imagine upon any field. I remember in 1911 or 1912 watching the then South African team playing against Scotland and beating it, and observing Mr. Douglas Murrell, their fullback, take a place kick from 25. It is the only time I have seen in all my life a football take exactly the same curve as a golf ball. The thing went as if shot from a cannon. The West Indies play cricket, and there is a British team that has been touring there in the last few years. And even India itself has its racquet. Now thereby unquestionably an attachment and an intimacy is created between these Dominions and the Homeland and these Dominions and each other, which is of the greatest possible value for the Empire as a whole. There will not be a small boy in Britain this summer who will not be a great deal more familiar with the doings of Mr. A. Jackson who made a century in his first test when he was nineteen, and Mr. Don Bradman, (?) who has made a century also in one of his early tests when he was twenty, a great deal better than he will know the name of Shakespeare and all his doings. (Laughter.) And once the athletic heroes of one people become the athletic heroes of other people, then obviously there is a strong bond. To this day I feel inclined to take off my hat when I hear the name of Spofford, ( ?) the most terrible bowler that ever bowled; he was an Australian.

One looking at those facts says that there is a certain advantage gained by those peoples in the earth who thus interchange continually activities of that sort. You can imagine what men like that, coming and visiting the Old Land, are worth for instance in the matter of migration. They are extraordinarily popular; their names become, as I say, household words, their doings are read every day and dreamed of by quite middle-aged men every night. They are worth endless posters, they are worth endless advertisements; they are the best kind of immigration material that has yet been discovered or developed. (Hear, hear and applause.) And one is anxious that this great people shall be in the same position of power, the same position of attracting to itself the best, as these others are by this situation. Is anybody going to maintain for one moment that the peoples of New Zealand, or Australia, or the West Indies, are superior in athletic prowess of their young men to those of Canada? Nobody is going to allow that for one second. Is one going to admit that there is an attractiveness and sportsmanship about them that there is not to be found here? One is not going to admit that for one second. But what one is anxious to see is that the peoples of the other united nations of the Empire shall be as aware of the sportsmanship, splendor, and dignity of Canada, as they are aware of that splendor and dignity amongst themselves.

So one comes now to one or two practical suggestions. In the first place, I understand that next year or the year after, under the guiding influence of Lord Desborough, there is to be brought into being an Empire version of the Olympic Games; and the place that has been selected for these games is Canada. (Hear, hear.) The actual village to which they are going is known as Hamilton. (Laughter.) I think it is very greatly to the credit of our friends that they are going there, and one looks forward to that as the beginning of a series of these intra-imperial tests, whereby the strenuousness and excellence of our young men will vie with each other, and in which, I have not the faintest possible doubt that Mr. Percy Williams and Messrs. Guest and Wright and their successors will see to it that a due percentage of the awards comes to the athletes of this Dominion. At the same time, an enterprise of that kind, excellent as it is, is not quite so useful, I think, in forging the bonds of Empire as it would be if there were created amongst us a system of continual and steady visits, wherein one portion of the Empire vied with another portion, singly or perhaps two or three together, on the old classic grounds of the Old Country. It is a continuous visiting that helps. It is moving about among the people that helps; it is getting near each other in the intimacies of the relaxed hours as well as in the more strenuous intimacies of the athletic field; it is that that greatly helps.

Secondly I would greatly like to see some steps taken whereby in some form or another of athletic activity Canada shall vie herself against the prowess, especially of the Old Country, but also of the other Dominions. Now how can that be secured? Well, you will allow me to say perhaps just this, that one always rejoices when one sees in this great country the development of British games. After all, the common spirit which we desire, must be interpreted through common games if we are to understand each other. I am not in the least inclined to be controversial, or to bring up any kind of vexed topics, but I say this, our country is big enough to play all sorts of games, and you are doing no harm either to Canada or to the Empire, or to the world, if purely British games played in British ways are developed amongst our people. (Hear, hear.) In the second place, is it not possible for Canada to put more emphasis upon her own supreme contribution to the games of the world? I know quite well that there is intercourse between the curlers and the bowlers and so on of the two countries. Curling is a very noble sport. (Hear, hear.) I am glad to see there is one curler present here. (Laughter.) It is the only purely democratic sport in the world. (Cries of Oh, Oh.) Well, shall I say it is the most purely democratic sport? At any rate, it is the only game that ever I heard of, in which authentically it is stated that a gardener addressed a Duke in these words. It is to be understood that the word "soop" in curling means sweep, and that the word "sumpf" in Scotch means fool. It is the only game in which it is authentically alleged that a gardener spoke to his own Duke, who employed him, in these words, "Soop her up, ye muckle sumf." Laughter.) If that is not democracy, what is? But at the same time, curling, and still more bowling, do not possess in them that element of violent risk that is associated with other forms; and bowling is perhaps the particular possession of gentlemen whose girth makes it a little difficult for them to come far enough forward to make a suitable bow in a rowing eight, and therefore they have not that general popular appeal that some other games have.

But Canada has produced two games that are the games of youth, which are an inestimable contribution to the athletic activities of the world. The first of these is ice hockey, the most beautiful game I have ever seen in -all my life-(Applause.)-the fastest and most skilful. But it is not an Empire-binding force. Why? Because the Canadians are far too good. It is no earthly use trying to play against them. Even the most gallant of Britishers, engineering to stem the wave of some Canadian on skates, feels for about the first time in his life what it is like to be a furry rabbit. Seeing the preponderance of Canadian skill, it cannot be a uniting force. But lacrosse can be. (Applause.) I rejoice to see among the distinguished gentlemen immediately in front of this platform, one of the greatest exponents of that lovely game. It is a very great delight to see Dr. Hughes beginning to get the light of ancient battle in his eye; in a moment I expect we shall see him clutching an egg spoon, running around this hall, and scoring a goal at that end. He can take pride in being one of those who have developed a game which, so far as I know, is the only external game which has fairly rooted itself upon British soil. And I think it is the utmost pity that the charming game which contains within it the qualities that a game ought to have, is not still the first pride of the young Canadian athlete. (Hear, hear.) I think that steps might be taken to re-establish it as the Empire game, through which, of all games, men can display the true sporting spirit. Why should not Canadian teams be back over there on the other side? Why should not they be defeating such English teams as there are, and there are a lot of them? Why shouldn't they play against Cambridge, and beat Cambridge, and why shouldn't they play against Oxford, and beat Oxford? I may say that Oxford won lacrosse this year; I am glad to be able to mention that interesting fact. Lacrosse is a game which is Canada's own, and which might continue to be Canada's splendid product.

Beyond that, it seems to me that there are steps that might be taken almost immediately. Association football is still the game of the vast majority of the young people of the other side. Unfortunately, from my point of view, there is too much professionalism about it. But amateur association is developing; many of the schools play it, and those who love the original form of football are concerned that it shall be reestablished. Why shouldn't a Canadian team go across? Why shouldn't they, as young Canadian amateurs prove that they can play that game as well, and just a trifle better, than any set of amateurs on the other side? And until that can be done, why should not a few Canadian golfers regularly go and prove that there are incipient Bobby Joneses amongst us. I don't know whether you call golf really a game or not. Some people say that it is a religion. (Laughter.) But assuming that it is a game, at any rate it does attract a very considerable amount of popular appeal and interest, and one would like to see regularly some cup competitions between the Old Country and this country. I do not know that it would happen, but supposing that for a little while the Canadian team might be beaten, it could not possibly be beaten worse than the British team was in the Walker Cup this year, but in the end of the day it would do what the British team is going to do, namely, win.

Now it seems to me that along these lines there are suggestions that are practical. I am quite certain that the interpenetration of each other by the representatives of our best sporting traditions is going to do us the greatest possible amount of good. I have come, sir, to love Canada so much, and to regard its future with such certain hope, that I do not like to think even for a moment that in any particular Canada should be the lone sister amongst the imperial constellations. So let it be an interest for business men who can provide cups, and, what is more than cups, expenses; let it be even a matter for the benevolent interest of the government, that there shall be an interplay and intercourse of these best elements amongst all our peoples. Go over to the Old Country and beat them. Eat up England; intimidate Ireland; wallop Wales; sudbue Scotland, if you can. (Laughter.) At any rate, as the years pass, let us on this side of the water be more and more in the one great family, looking to the time when the young Canadian will win the crown of wild olive, that emblem of sweet honour and gray rest, that which is given as a reward and as a guerdon to gallant youth who stands dowered from the night and splendid for the day as the pride and hope of mankind. (Applause.)

The thanks of the Club were tendered to the speaker by Dr. Burns.

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The Imperial Significance of Games

Some personal background of the speaker. Interest in games and anxiety concerning the sporting spirit very deep-seated, and inherent in human nature; something which can be used in the spiritual realm for the binding and gathering together of people of different climes and different outlooks. Three great political problems which stand out as superior in their importance: the question of the increasing development of unity of a pacific British Empire; the development of a completer understanding and sympathy between that Empire and the United States of America; the creation of a right atmosphere between all the signatories to the League of Nations. The uniting force of our common love of games and in our attitude to them when we play them. Certain other attitudes which make up a total complex of a very fine kind. Some illustrations of these attitudes, and common bonds. Athletic ambassadors. The common spirit which we desire to be interpreted through common games if we are to understand each other. A look at curling and bowling. A discussion about ice hockey and lacrosse as developed in Canada. The development of amateur association. Interchange of sports between the Old Country and Canada: some suggestions.