War Minus the Shooting Learning from War with Shooting?

In 1945 George Orwell wrote The Sporting Spirit for the Tribune.

In it he observed that:

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

He added that:

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

On the day that I revisited George Orwell’s article I received a PhilPapers alert to Philippe Mongin’s paper, A Game-Theoretic Analysis of the Waterloo Campaign and Some Comments on the Analytic Narrative Project.

In his paper Phillippe presents a game-theoretic model of Napoleon’s last campaign, which ended dramatically on 18 June 1815 at Waterloo. It looks in particular at the decision Napoleon made “on 17 June 1815 to detach part of his army against the Prussians he had defeated, though not destroyed, on 16 June at Ligny”.

On page 7 of the paper he proposes a model for:

Napoleon’s all-crucial decision, June 17, 1815, the day after his victory over Blucher at Ligny. That day he chose to send more than a third of his forces, under the command of Grouchy, against the retreating Prussians. All the commentators agree that this division of the French army was the key to Wellington’s victory, June 18 at Waterloo. Grouchy spent the fateful day at Wavre, baited by Blucher’s rear guard, while the advance guard marched unimpeded to join Wellington in the mist of an uncertain battle. The campaign’s greatest question, which involves Napoleon’s rationality, is whether he could have made better use of Grouchy’s detachment. The model we propose to answer this question takes the form of a simple zero-sum game between Napoleon and Blucher. Despite the absence of Grouchy as an autonomous player, it adds precision to the competing hypotheses.

Section 3 of Phillippe’s paper provides extensive detail to support the game theoretic approach. As I worked my way through his model I was fascinated by the interplay of other observations on events.

I finished the paper thinking about many sporting coaches’ interest in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and how Phillippe might extend their understanding.

I thought too about how knowledge discovery in databases is transforming the support available for real-time decision making.

Whilst contemplating this I thought about the number of announcements being made around the world about additional funds for Olympic programs with ‘medal prospects’. The sporting world George Orwell described has access now to very powerful analysis tools that project medal success. If we can revisit world changing military encounters then it is highly likely we can extend the methodologies from the battle ground to the sport arena.

I think I will retrace my steps with a look at Will Hopkins, John Hawley and Louise Burke’s paper (1999) (Design and analysis of research on sport performance enhancement) and by dusting off my copy of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War.

Photo Credits

6000 Girls at Sokol Sports at Prague, Austria

Waterloo, Belgium



NESC Forum 2009: Morning Session Day 1: Introductions


Peter Fricker, Director of the Australian Institute of Sport, welcomed delegates to the 2009 NESC Forum. There are 250 delegates in attendance at the Forum. Peter noted the importance of collaboration in the ethos of the Forum.

Peter invited the new chair of NESC, Steve Lawrence (Western Australia Institute of Sport), to open the Forum. Steve noted the venue for this year’s Forum and its significance in world sport. Steve recognised NESC members and thanked Wes Battams chair of NESC for the last five years.

Steve affirmed that NESC has been a vigorous focus for debate. He noted that NESC supports national success within state based rivalry. This sports system has tensions and NESC has worked for sixteen years to deliver outcomes for Australian sport. Steve emphasised the importance of the daily training environment in NESC’s work: a coach led multidisciplinary approach to enhancing performance. NESC represents a $90 million investment by the Federal Government and State Governments (this is a $20m greater investment than for the Sydney Games). There are 3100 athletes in the system (a 20% decrease from Sydney) and 490 core business staff (a 20% increase). Coaches make up 45% of this increase in staff. Steve confirmed that NESC invests in support for athletes and reported that 75% of all Olympic athletes came out of the NESC system in last two Olympic cycles. Recently, NESC has developed a national collective agreement and national athlete support agreement.

Steve introduced David Martin to the delegates.

33_percent_landscape Photo Source

David presented a talk entitled: Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery.

David pondered whether imitation is the first sign of weakness. Is AIS a copy of Russian and GDR systems? Is it an ethical GDR system?

David suggested that we converge on good ideas rather than copying them. He explored some ideas around convergent evolution.

David discussed early scientists at the AIS. He cited the work of Dick Telford, Allan Hahn, Peter Fricker and Louise Burke. He argued that these scientists are great examples of people prepared to put their skills to a real test.

David’s talk paused to acknowledge the 11 o’clock minute of silence. On recommencing the talk, David spoke movingly about Amy Gillett. He discussed the characteristics of a special institute that welcomes athletes and affirms their life choices in sport. David reflected on the Sydney Olympics and the energy that comes with a home Olympic Games.

David concluded his talk with  a proclamation of confidence and used a video of a recent AIS altitude camp to demonstrate this confidence.