A Letter | Sławomir Mrożek | Granta Magazine

A Letter

Sławomir Mrożek

Translated by Timothy Garton Ash

‘I draw your attention to football. The practice of this game threatens the basis of our very way of life.’


To the Highest Council of the Highest Union of the Highest Societies:

I draw your attention to football. The practice of this game threatens the basis of our very way of life. I should explain.

When people watch a game of this sort, they do so, you realize, not knowing what the result will be. It follows that it might very well enter their heads that the HCHUHS also does not know what the result will be. And it further follows that many will come to believe that there is something that the HCHUHS does not actually know. This is not all.

Consider the implications of a match the result of which is unequal. For example, a result that is ‘one–nil’. Or another example: a result that is ‘nil–one’. People actually believe – it’s true – that the team that has scored the most goals is better than the team that has scored the least – or has not scored any goals at all. And this of course contradicts a very fundamental principle: that no one is better than anyone else and that only the HCHUHS is better than everyone (unless of course the HCHUHS decides that someone is better than someone else – or at least better until further notice).

This uncontrollable aspect of a football match opens up a yawning gulf through which slips the idea that it is possible to win or lose. Worse, the satisfaction of winning is at the expense of the dissatisfaction of the losing teams. And everybody knows that satisfaction should be distributed equally, and that dissatisfaction shouldn’t exist at all.

The very form of the ball in this game is an affront – a veritable contradiction – to our system. For this ball is round; moreover, it rolls; worse, when this football rolls, it may roll here or there – you simply can’t know where it’s going to roll to next. But everyone knows that our system, which stands firm, rolls nowhere because it is immovable.

I therefore propose a small change: that we abandon the round ball and adopt a square one – in other words, the cube.

There are – I hardly need to point out – many advantages to playing football with a cube, not least that we will never again have the problem of not knowing where a football might go: it won’t go anywhere at all.

But there are other, equally important changes that I propose.

First. That the result of each match be fixed in advance by the Central Planning Commission. These results will then be published in the Gazette of Laws and announced at regular intervals through the mass media. This will, in addition, represent a tremendous saving – of both money and energy: for why, ultimately, will we even need to play the match when we already know the result?

Second. Every team declared as the loser will be obliged to display a form of satisfaction. There is of course much variety in forms of satisfaction. There is, for instance, the spontaneous manifestation of joy outside the opposing team’s clubhouse. Or letters of thanks can be sent to the HCHUHS. It’s obvious that the possibilities are endless. The winning team will of course be required to be equally satisfied in an analogous manner.

Third. The championship of each year’s play will be determined by the degree of satisfaction expressed by the individual teams. In this way we eliminate not only the element of competition, but we succeed in channelling it into a healthy and socially constructive form.

With sportive greetings,

Sławomir Mrożek


Photograph © Shapelined

Sławomir Mrożek

Sławomir Mrożek’s (1930 – 2013) was a Polish playwright, known for his play Tango. ‘A Letter’ (Granta 11) is from Donosy, a collection of short satirical sketches, first published in Polish in 1983 by Puls Publications in London, .

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Translated by Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash is the author of ten books of political writing which have charted the transformation of Europe over the last half-century. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His essays appear regularly in the New York Review of Books and he writes a weekly column in the Guardian which is widely syndicated in Europe, Asia and the Americas. He also contributes to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In 2006, he was awarded the George Orwell Prize for political writing. His books include The Polish Revolution, The Uses of Adversity and We the People, all published by Granta Books.  

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