Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sports and spycraft

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl; that epitome of the American sporting world. But I’m not going to talk about football. Instead this post is about cricket. And spycraft.

Ben Macintyre, in Double Cross, makes the following observation about the British connection between sports and spycraft:

The relationship between cricket (that most English of sports) and spying (at which the British have always excelled) is deep rooted and unique. Something about the game attracts the sort of mind also drawn to the secret worlds of intelligence and counterintelligence—a complex test of brain and brawn, a game of honor interwoven with trickery, played with ruthless good manners and dependent on minute gradations of physics and psychology, with tea breaks. Some of the most notable British spies have been cricketers or cricket enthusiasts. Hitler played cricket, but only once. In 1930 it was claimed that, having seen British POWs playing in southern Germany during the First World War, the Nazi party leader asked to be “initiated into the mysteries of our national game.” A match was played against Hitler’s team, after which he declared that the rules should be altered by the “withdrawal of the use of pads” and using a “bigger and harder ball.” Hitler could not understand the subtlety of a game like cricket; he thought only in terms of speed, spectacle, violence. Cricket was the ideal sport on which to model an organization bent on stumping the Führer.
Which makes me wonder, what does the American love of football say about our methods of spycraft?
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