It’s More Than a Game

Date: December 18, 2011 / Posted by control

“The problem is this. How is it possible to describe the meaning of what we enjoy, whether it be Mozart, Cezanne or sport?” Those words were uttered by the legendary Sir Roger Bannister, who in May 1954, became the first man to achieve a sub-four-minute mile. And like he was on that fateful day at Oxford, he is spot on.

Sport, in one-way or another, has touched us all. It is one of the most unifying, and at the same time, divisive, of human pursuits. It can lead to the creation of lifelong friendships or bitter and spiteful arguments. In many ways, sport is a microcosm of life. But, above all, it is theatre.

One afternoon spent watching sport can provide the spectator with the full gamut of human emotions. Indeed, the word sport is actually an abbreviation of the word disport, meaning to divert or amuse. Originally from Latin, it literally means carry away. When we watch sport that is exactly what happens, for we are transported to a different time and place, free to experience life’s offerings. Joy, anger, frustration, delight, annoyance, empathy and sympathy, they are all there in various guises.

Sport is theatre without a script. It’s a whodunit, with twists and turns, both subtle and blatant. Whilst it engages every fibre and sinew of its players, it also inexorably draws in those who merely sit on the sidelines, riveted to the action. For a few short hours, the troubles of everyday life evaporate and float away like a feather on the breeze. All that matters is the drama that is unfolding before you. Success or failure, joy or despair, can be measured in fractions.

Sport is a form of release for those who partake. From the days of primitive man, there has been an inbuilt desire to play, whether it be throwing a stone at a tree or trying to hit it with a fallen branch. It serves as a way of testing ourselves, both mentally and physically. And when done properly, it provides one with a sense of immense satisfaction. It allows us to measure ourselves against others.

And what of those you are watching? They perform before you with their souls laid bare. Their strengths and frailties are paraded before you, for all the world to see. Their every move is analysed and open to question. Former world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Frazier once said, “If you cheated on your preparation in the dark of the morning, you’re getting found out under the bright lights”. And how bright those lights are. At the highest level of competition those lights can often be the flicker from a billion pairs of eyes glued to television screens, hanging on your every move. Sport is not for the faint of heart, for it can be cruel beyond belief.

Sport teaches us all about life. As children it provides us with many invaluable tools and insights. It teaches us leadership, responsibility, teamwork, discipline and perhaps most importantly, sportsmanship. Religious and judicial laws help structure the society in which we live. In many circumstances, like the Ten Commandments and the Criminal Code they are preserved in written form. While we learn much of what is right and wrong from such formal doctrines, we learn as much about life through sport. The unwritten laws of sport, things like fair play, are also building blocks on which we stand and view the world.

One of the principal reasons that sport can provide such an exhilaration rush for the participants is the fact that it is a total mind and body experience. George Orwell once described sport as “war minus the shooting”. Through the years, the sporting vernacular has become littered with words that were traditionally reserved for war and conflict. Words such as clash, battle and surrendered are commonplace in sports journalism. In some ways, sport is a substitute for warfare.

Like war, in many sports there is an element of danger. Athletes risk life and limb in pursuit of their goal. The associated dangers are very much part of the appeal, not only for the competitors but the spectators alike. Many of us who are too scared to challenge nature or a 100kg opponent, are inspired by those who do.

For those who set themselves for the ultimate prize, failure can be a devastating result. Russia’s Vasiliy Alexeyev, the dual Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter best summed it up, “A great sportsman dies twice, and the first death is the most painful”. There is nowhere to hide. You are there on centre stage for the entire world to see.

Yet, despite the pressures and the ever-constant threat of public humiliation, millions of people each day want to emulate their heroes. Children dream of being the next great champion, while adults of all ages wish, just for a moment, they could be that person on the field of play, there in the glare of the spotlight, making that putt, taking that catch, hitting the winning run. For while failure can be devastating, few things in life can match the feeling and euphoria of sporting triumph.

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