That magnificent obsession: sport

Tips for Life

by Alan Bailey

In a world where empires collapse, earthquakes devastate, assassins slay and armies crush, no news is as important to many people as who won the last sporting world cup. Sport for many is a craze. At least, it could easily look that way to an outside observer.

Think of the hours of coverage on television or the procession of parents following their children to the local playing field each weekend. Witness the people who run, climb, bat, kick, throw, swing, dive, drive, pedal, dance, skate, ski, wrestle, box — and add what you want.

For some it’s an interest, a pastime. For others it’s an essential ingredient of life — life being rendered meaningless without it. For yet others it is a passion, a driving force, a religion calling for supreme dedication. Those who view sport but don’t play it, fall into exactly the same categories.

Thank God for sport
Candidly, I wonder just where we would be without it. What would our young people get up to if sport didn’t take up so much of their spare time? There are a tremendous number of doubtful alternatives that could easily captivate them.

How many would have healthy bodies if they had no systematic exercise? Would we learn to lose well in the game of life if we didn’t learn to lose in sporting competition? Where would we learn team spirit, comradeship, courtesy toward rivals and a host of values like determination, courage, endurance and mental and physical discipline?

Even though we see many unfortunate examples of bad sportsmanship, the overwhelming majority seem to benefit from their sporting activity rather than lose from it.

Keeping it in context
The thing that troubles people like me is the utter seriousness which surrounds organised sport so much of the time. Now, I know it’s serious business when you are shaping up to kick or miss a goal one minute before the final siren, but why must it always be serious business, taking over so much time, money, thinking, ambition, affection?

It’s not too strong to call it a religion. Think of the rituals that surround notable occasions like grand finals and the Olympics. Think of the fanatical adherence to codes, the quoting of the Book of Rules — to the point where erring umpires almost deserve to die as heretics. The commentators speak of the sacred or hallowed turf. Then words like dedication, sacrifice, adoration, miracle, triumph, awe and magnificence flow in a steady stream.

The sad truth
As I see it, we parents and elders handed sport to our children with this inordinately high profile because we haven’t anything else. Do they, or we, ever ask the question ‘So what?’ So what if this individual wins or loses? So what if this or that team goes down next Saturday? So what if America wins the next Olympics? Does it matter all that much?

When the chips are down, that is, when life’s realities set in, or death stares us in the face, it won’t matter very much who could kick a pigskin full of air or who could whack a ball with a lump of wood.

When the last siren sounds at the stadium and God rings down the curtain on every performance on earth, how many people will be wishing they had given attention to Him instead of being caught up in a game. How fatal, how foolish this obsession may turn out to be in the end. And, after all, wouldn’t any sporting coach say that it’s the end that counts?

Filed under: Alan BaileyTagged with: , ,