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The Game And The Rules
by [?]

A sportive friend of mine, a mighty golfer, is fond of saying, “You Radicals want to play the game without the rules.” To which I am accustomed mildly to retort, “Not at all; but we think the rules unfair, and so we want to see them altered.”

Now life is a very peculiar game, which differs in many important respects even from compulsory football. The Rugby scrimmage is mere child’s play by the side of it. There’s no possibility of shirking it. A medical certificate won’t get you off; whether you like it or not, play you must in your appointed order. We are all unwilling competitors. Nobody asks our naked little souls beforehand whether they would prefer to be born into the game or to remain, unfleshed, in the limbo of non-existence. Willy nilly, every one of us is thrust into the world by an irresponsible act of two previous players; and once there, we must play out the set as best we may to the bitter end, however little we like it or the rules that order it.

That, it must be admitted, makes a grave distinction from the very outset between the game of human life and any other game with which we are commonly acquainted. It also makes it imperative upon the framers of the rules so to frame them that no one player shall have an unfair or unjust advantage over any of the others. And since the penalty of bad play, or bad success in the match, is death, misery, starvation, it behoves the rule-makers to be more scrupulously particular as to fairness and equity than in any other game like cricket or tennis. It behoves them to see that all start fair, and that no hapless beginner is unduly handicapped. To compel men to take part in a match for dear life, whether they wish it or not, and then to insist that some of them shall wield bats and some mere broom-sticks, irrespective of height, weight, age, or bodily infirmity, is surely not fair. It justifies the committee in calling for a revision.

But things are far worse than even that in the game as actually played in Europe. What shall we say of rules which decide dogmatically that one set of players are hereditarily entitled to be always batting, while another set, less lucky, have to field for ever, and to be fined or imprisoned for not catching? What shall we say of rules which give one group a perpetual right to free lunch in the tent, while the remainder have to pick up what they can for themselves by gleaning among the stubble? How justify the principle in accordance with which the captain on one side has an exclusive claim to the common ground of the club, and may charge every player exactly what he likes for the right to play upon it?–especially when the choice lies between playing on such terms, or being cast into the void, yourself and your family. And then to think that the ground thus tabooed by one particular member may be all Sutherlandshire, or, still worse, all Westminster! Decidedly, these rules call for instant revision; and the unprivileged players must be submissive indeed who consent to put up with them.

Friends and fellow-members, let us cry with one voice, “The links for the players!”

Once more, just look at the singular rule in our own All England club, by which certain assorted members possess a hereditary right to veto all decisions of the elective committee, merely because they happen to be their fathers’ sons, and the club long ago very foolishly permitted the like privilege to their ancestors! That is an irrational interference with the liberty of the players which hardly anybody nowadays ventures to defend in principle, and which is only upheld in some half-hearted way (save in the case of that fossil anachronism, the Duke of Argyll) by supposed arguments of convenience. It won’t last long now; there is talk in the committee of “mending or ending it.” It shows the long-suffering nature of the poor blind players at this compulsory game of national football that they should ever for one moment permit so monstrous an assumption–permit the idea that one single player may wield a substantive voice and vote to outweigh tens of thousands of his fellow-members!