What is the relationship between sport and these symptoms of decay in capitalist society? Does it signify a flight from a bleak reality into an illusory world, or is it a sign of self-assertion against the ominous decline of the race? It is both, and much more. Make no mistake: panem et circenses [bread and circuses] applies to our time as well. But the modern proletarian is not comparable to the lumpenproletarian of ancient Rome. He possesses the force of the self-conscious rebel who does not resign himself to his fate. He bursts his confines and seeks a way out. Sport is a rebellion against the threat of decay, an expression of the will to live. Young life does not want to be crushed on the treadmill of the economic system but strives to raise itself to higher forms. That is why it seeks the movement necessary to life and psychological balance in a kind of work that it recognizes as struggle and play and therefore a source of joy and well-being. Seen in this way sport is a playful form of work and thereby a necessary correlate of today’s production processes. On the mental, physical, and psychological plane, it gives young people what contemporary work, thanks to its degeneration into modern slave labor, cannot: the movement vital to life! That is the deepest meaning of sport.
But—this is the question of concerned people—does it not also contain the danger of a turn away from the intellectual world and the idea of socialism? Yes and no! It depends on whether we place sport at the service of socialism by leading young people to recognize that sport is uncreative if it does not go hand-in-hand with the social struggle for improving the conditions against which it signifies a protest. Sport necessarily perishes when people lack time and nourishment to such a degree that engaging in it is impossible. A sick race cannot cultivate sport; it is forced to exhaust itself in its concern for healing its sores. We have to hammer into young people that production cannot be developed through a return to ancestral methods but that the division of labor must be further developed if an increase in production, which is a precondition of socialism, is to be achieved. This recognition then yields the practical lesson that salvation is only to be had from a considerable reduction in soulless labor and therefore a gain in leisure time sufficient for vital activities in all areas of life. Influenced by such thoughts, sport can become a powerful factor in favor of socialism, particularly in arousing parts of the population that we can reach only with great difficulty with our purely intellectual weapons.
I bring this discussion to a close with the affirmation that sport, in its best and strongest sense, is the will to culture. Let us see to it that the liberating act will be the product of this will.
Source of English translation: Fritz Wildung, “Sport is the Will to Culture” (1926), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 681-82. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.
Source of original German text: Fritz Wildung, “Sport ist Kulturwille,” Kulturwille 3, no. 5 (May 1926), p. 85.