After falling out of favor, at least at the more progressive public schools, competitive sports are having a revival. According to Jane Shilling, writing in the Daily Telegraph, that has also created a renewed interest in sports days. For some, that spells enjoyment, for others, not so much:
While their fleeter classmates polish their winners’ cups, the unco-ordinated, the weedy, myopic and hopelessly vague, who would rather be working on their cantatas than running like the wind, can always find consolation in satire. “Few associated games with pleasure,” wrote Evelyn Waugh of his schooldays in his memoir, A Little Learning. “They were a source of intense competition, anxiety and recrimination to those who excelled; of boredom and discomfort to those who were bad at them.”
If Waugh … had managed to avoid competitive games at Lancing, his schooldays might have been happier, but the loss to generations of readers would have been incalculable: deprived of the savage (but strangely recognisable) description in Decline and Fall of that most anarchic of scholastic traditions, the school sports day.
Perhaps. But the disastrously chaotic sports day described in Decline and Fall probably owes more to Waugh’s experience as a schoolmaster at the shambolic Arnold House in Wales than the the better ordered events at Lancing.