Interpretation of Sport
Roman Vodeb’s fourth monograph
More than 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud published his first book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), the groundwork of psychoanalysis, which meant a turning point in how the human mind was seen at that time. According to Freud, it was unconsciousness that took the leading position in the human mind, while consciousness came in second position. According to Freud, dreams represented »the royal path to unconsciousness«. The birth of psychoanalysis had been marked a few years before that with Freud’s article on hysteria (1895). Both hysteria as a mental disorder, and sport are yet another two examples of “a path to unconsciousness”.
The essence of unconsciousness is libidinal, ie. sexual. In all its forms and structures, sport is not what it appears to be: it is latently sexual. In order to get to know the true essence of sport, its games and rituals first have to be decoded or translated. One has to reach beyond sport and look into its unconscious or latent-symbolic structure. This is the basis of this new theory which presents an epistemological cut (a revolution) in sportology. Until now, sport theorists have not dared to write in such a provocative manner, nor have they known how to go about it, since this requires a thorough familiarity of psychoanalytic, ie. Freud’s, concepts.
Vodeb’s theory will be summed up in some fundamental theses, the most significant of them being the idea that sport has a latent structure and is not only what can be (manifestly) seen. Just as dreams have their double structure, so does sport. In fact, the situation is identical. According to Freud, the basic feature of dreams is that they represent an implementation of unconscious desire. The basic thesis of the present theory is that unconscious desire also plays a leading role in the aetiology of sport. The way the desire is sexual when it comes to discussing dreams, it is just as sexual when it is applied to sports.
Desire for sexual intercourse (between man and woman) forms the sexual epicentre from the phallic stage onward. In his works Three essays on the theory of sexuality and Little Hans, Freud has tried to prove that a boy unconsciously wants to “do something” with his mother, and that “something” proves to be sexual intercourse (coitus). It is this unconscious desire for sexual intercourse that takes the most significant place in the human mind – of both men and women. There are a number of symbols in sports that can be linked to sexual intercourse. For instance, the goal or the basket is a typical representative of sexuality in the latent structure of football, or handball, hockey, basketball, golf, snooker etc. It is a symbol of or a substitute for the female genitals, ie. the vagina, which gives rise to the thesis that sport was invented because of men’s unconscious desire for women and having sexual intercourse with them.
This symbolic structure underlies much pleasure that comes out of sport. When Jason Naismith brought basketball into being in 1891, he did not merely bring it into being, he desired it into being, taking it out of his unconscious desire for women or, rather, for having sexual intercourse with them. This unconscious desire, which is consciously present and manifest in a person’s adulthood, is what one cold Springfield winter drove Naismith to put a peach basket at a place difficult to reach, telling his athletes to throw balls into it. In so doing, they were playfully »copulating« (with) the basket and experiencing pleasure. In just a few years’ time, the basketball league was being played all over Northern America.
From the point-of-view of Vodeb’s theory, a basket, or a goal or any other hole or cavity found in sports, is but a symbol of or a replacement for the vagina. At the latent level, pleasure derived out of playing basketball is sexual, as are the emotions the spectators are feeling while identifying with the players. If they defeat the opponent and thus symbolically castrate the sexual opponent (the »revived father«), euphoria is so much greater. On the one hand, maximum investments of psychic energy are a consequence of the child’s infantile (unconscious) presentiment of potential sexual intercourse with the mother and of the child’s repression of that very same desire. On the other hand, there is a conscious desire for sexual intercourse present throughout the adult period. The flow of unconscious thoughts does its part of the course. The libidinal (energetic) effect is so much greater owing to the associative connection with the experienced and repressed ideas of castration coming back from childhood.
A further analysis of pleasure in sport cannot disregard the Oedipus complex and the concept of castration. They both have a major impact on all events connected with sport. The (unconscious) infantile desire to eliminate (or castrate) the father as a sexual rival is repressed in childhood. The return of this repression is what makes grown men as competitive or as eager to win as they are. Men’s joy of winning derives from their repression of castration. It is connected to the unconscious infantile desire to defeat the father.
Theoretically speaking, there should be no women in (men’s) sports – but there are. Freud's reaction to the presence of women in men’s sports is that they look up to men and behave as men do. There is, no doubt, an infantile and unconscious »penis envy« at the back of women’s minds. With the goal and the basket being substitutes for the vagina, it is obvious that a woman cannot copulate with herself. Following men's example is the only theoretical alternative which could explain why women play basketball, football, handball, hockey etc. It takes a culture as liberal as is today to allow them doing these men’s sports. Men, especially coaches, were the ones who wanted women to become sportswomen - which makes these men »feminists per excellence«. When women became sportswomen, they adapted their phallic and boastful nature as well. They copied their behavioural patterns. Originally, women’s sports include dance, figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, aerobics, synchronised swimming etc., which as such have a narcissistic character. It is the infantile (unconscious) »penis envy« that drives women to take up men’s sports. We can safely claim that women are not kept out of (men’s) sports, as feminists, coaches and sometimes even sportswomen themselves like to say, but are rather kept there against their true nature because of the liberal cultural views. The cultural and civilisation concepts, which are present in today’s Western-European and American cultures, are greatly influenced by the liberal and feminist ideologies.
Vodeb’s greatest emphasis, however, is that his psychoanalytic theory about the interpretation of sport has emerged from his pure desire to know even the unknowable. His views are provocative, they are radically different, bringing together knowledge of psychoanalysis, psychology, psychiatry and philosophy. This multi-disciplinarian approach is used in Vodeb’s second book: Sport through Psychoanalysis and this (fourth) book: The Interpretation of Sport. The two books or a selection of chapters deserve to be translated into English or any other world language.
Roman Vodeb, double M. A., is a Slovenian theoretical psychoanalyst and an independent scholar. He has published five books in which he applies psychoanalysis to sport, ideology of sport and gender. He writes for Slovene media, providing psychoanalytic interpretation of current social events and issues dealing with gender issues, politics, sport, culture and art.