I must admit that I’d always thought of ‘field sports’ as something like rugby, football or cricket, where two equally matched teams compete on a field. The idea that fox hunting is conducted in fields is odd enough in itself, before we get onto the subject of what constitutes a sport, because I find it hard to picture how a bunch of grinning horsemen encouraging untrained young hounds to tear apart defenceless fox cubs in a covert, copse or wood can think of themselves as being in a field. I also find it difficult to understand how these same people, who share their sport with terriermen, can be thought of as confining their activities to a field.
Is the New Forest a field? I think not.
And then there are the myriad accounts of household pets being savaged to death by rampant hounds in back gardens, places I don’t really think of as fields or indeed meadows, heaths or leas, so perhaps it would be more accurate to describe fox hunting as “A blight on the entire British countryside, its people and wildlife” rather than as a ‘field sport.’
And so we come to the so-called ‘sport’ aspect of fox hunting; as many people have observed before now, a genuine sport is between two equally-matched contestants, as happens in boxing or table tennis, for example, or between two equally-matched teams, as we see in ice hockey, cricket and many others.
With the very best will in the world, it is rather difficult to see how one small whippet-sized creature can be seen to stand an earthly chance against a full pack of hounds bred for stamina, as many as 50 men and women on horseback and a legion of foot-followers, not to mention those on quad bikes and in 4 x 4 vehicles who are equipped with radios to keep everyone informed on the fox’s whereabouts. Even if this exhausted creature manages to find sanctuary beneath the earth, it faces an agonising death as a result of being eaten alive from behind by terriers sent after it, as well as facing yet another adversary from the front, in all probability.
In traditional fox hunting it will also be dug out by the terriermen as the rest of the hunt look on in pleasure, then it will either be baited to death in a pit, bludgeoned to death with a shovel when its tormentors have lost interest in the whimpering, blood-soaked bundle at their feet, or else thrown to the hounds to be ripped apart while still alive. The gory details are all bad enough, but the simple fact that I have to refer to a fox in the singular, while its adversaries can number a hundred or more, makes it very hard to see how this squalid minority pastime can be termed a sport by anyone who has any respect for the English language.
Bizarre as it may seem, there’s even more to the matter than this. Every now and again, a fantastically lucky fox might find himself with some supporters in the form of Hunt monitors. One would have thought that English gentlemen and women would positively welcome the arrival of these public-spirited souls who go out of their way to even the odds and provide a level playing field, but no – instead, the presence of these people provoke howls of outrage from the pro hunting fraternity.
At the top end of the scale, television rights for sports can be sold for hundreds of millions of pounds in the case of Formula One or football, while there can’t be a single sports team in Britain who wouldn’t love to have their games and contests televised. Rightly or wrongly, a television appearance has long been a cherished dream for millions of people in Britain, so it’s only natural that everyone from those performing at gymkhanas or boxing matches to school football or rugby teams would like nothing more than to have a camera crew on hand. Fox hunting, however, stands alone as the only ‘sport’ in Britain where you risk strong opposition if you try to film the proceedings and once again, the internet is brim-full with footage of foul-mouthed huntsmen and hunt supporters harassing monitors and anyone else who tries to capture the protracted, violent death of one of Britain’s most beautiful wild animals on film.
It begs the question of what it is that the other supposed sportsmen and sportswomen are so keen to hide from public view?
And so on and so forth, but it’s abundantly clear that not only is fox hunting not a sport, but there are no rules, no referees are allowed and filming is frequently very unwelcome, all of which is a very poor show indeed, for a supposed pastime of an English gentleman. After the Second World War, the British responded to the grievous losses they had suffered during the most titanic conflict the planet has ever seen by promoting the idea of Noel Coward’s song “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Hun”, something that showed the unfailing generosity of spirit of the British people. We are famous for supporting the underdog and for giving the world the Marquis of Queensbury Rules, which are yet another byword for fair play, yet our island is plagued by this vile pastime and those who seek to justify it.
Well, we’ve seen that so-called ‘field sports’ aren’t by any means confined to fields, while the idea of this activity being accurately described as a sport would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. So, just what do you call a violent activity that’s confined to no particular location, which is hopelessly one-sided, which ends in the violent, protracted death of an extremely unwilling participant, which has no rules whatsoever, no referee, is against the law and which results in violence towards anyone who tries to film it?
It sounds more like a riot, a rampage or indeed a lynch mob to me.
Whichever way you look at it, fox hunting and especially digging out and terrierwork is just not cricket, and it’s hard to think of anything more Un-British.
When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal. When he destroys one of the works of god we call him a sportsman.
Joseph Wood Krutch, 1893 – 1970