Stalin behind the bike sheds

SHE was about 12, I guess, although nowadays the eight-year-olds look to me like 12-year-olds and the 12-year-olds look like 16-year-olds.

And she was with her mate on the bus, explaining life. Or, possibly, death… “You’ve got to knock the good people out. That’s why we gang up on you.”

Having dealt with the elimination of the opposition she asked, ‘Can you make your tummy go in a skeleton shape?”

I wanted to turn round in my seat and say: “If anyone hangs around you for long it won’t just be their tummy that’s in a skeleton shape,” but I restrained myself.

Instead I sat and shivered at the thought of the monsters we are nurturing in our schoolrooms.

You know who was famous for the kind of philosophy this young assassin was espousing? (And I’m not talking about sucking in your tummy in a skeleton shape).

Stalin. Stalin and the kings of Ancient Greece, who murdered all their potential rivals, including cousins and brothers, in their bid to hang on to the throne. Almost all dictators who didn’t want to lose, in fact.

Whatever happened to “it matters not whether you win or lose but how you play the game”?

Or is that after you’ve ganged up on other potential winners and knocked them out? And are we talking “knocked them out” as in “beaten them in the heats” or are we talking a sock full of sand behind the bike sheds?

Gone are the days of simply being the best runner or the strongest swimmer. In the corridors of school power, alliances are being formed and sundered, pawns are being moved across the chess board of sports day politics, as our little athletes form gangs to knock out Sarah, who was in with a chance, or Jimmy, who reckons he’s got it in the bag.

And no doubt Jimmy and Sarah are forming whispered alliances of their own behind the covers of their exercise books.

I saw another doe-eyed young lady — who might still have been in primary school! — wearing a sinister little T-shirt that said: “Remember… you must practise. If you don’t practise then one day you’ll meet someone who does – and THEY’LL WIN!”

Life is no longer about having fun – it’s about winning and losing.

I can hear all those sports coaches saying: “But winning is fun.”

Well, yes, but playing can be fun, too. And everyone can play. But there’s only one winner. In a classroom of kids primed for winning there’s only going to be one person having fun. And probably only very limited fun at that.

They might be tactical geniuses at the long jump and the 100-metre butterfly, but someone out there will bake a meaner soufflé or play a better clarinet.

There are only so many things you can practise and only so much opposition you can knock out.

I wonder what it’s all doing for good old Aussie mateship. Probably the same thing it did for the relationship between Caesar and Brutus, or Hitler and Mussolini.

She seemed such a sweet little thing, too, with her tummy sucked into a skeleton shape.

She was probably practising to avoid the knives.