sports, losing and crossing

This has been a summer of various sporting events: World Cup (football), Wimbledon (tennis), the Commonwealth Games, Golf and Cricket (England versus India). Besides some wonderful individual and team performances in all of these games, I am struck by the inability of many to DSCF1049see and accept losing or even failing as an integral dimension of any games of sport.

No one wishes to lose: my team, player, club or nation must triumph come what may. No wonder managers and coaches, with pay packages that boggle the mind, are shown the road, players are turned upon and scapegoats are sought out with much haste, vigour and aggression. So we make of athletes super-humans and place them on pedestals, demanding that they perform and produce “wins” all the time in order to massage our egos, betting habits and media punditry.

Consequently, when our “team” fail to produce we are unable to accept that they have been outperformed on the occasion by the better team or that a player may be having a ‘difficult time’. The very supporters and media pundits who have been praising the players/managers will then proceed to crucify individuals as finding a scapegoat and blaming someone becomes the name of the game. Any sense of the delight and beauty in playing the game and participating in the particular Sport become causalities as a result of a new idolatry – the ‘must win’ or ‘only winners’ one. Delighting in the sport and affirming ‘good sport’ or a ‘good game’ is lost somewhere in this winning fog, largely dictated by money, prime time advertising or any sense that the only way up is through losing (or falling downwards).

Lest you are wondering, I have not been permanently glued before our TV set over the summer. But the times I have looked, I was largely pissed off by the focus on particular athletes/players (as if others did not matter), some very bias and ridiculous commentaries, and an obsession with the best and most perfect: best goal, best player, best batsman or bowler, best tactical managing, best ever world-cup or games – all pointing to how we are unconsciously amusing ourselves to death in our obsession for perfection. What are we trying to compensate for? Now and again one can sense some hope as some minor player or athlete is recognised for their love of the sport, sporting spirit, commitment and their talent – or through subversion by a surprise win!

A related observation, while deep in preparing papers for conferences on postcolonial perspectives on worship, has been (what I have termed) the liturgical play of players in some of the sports. I mean the crossing of the self (father, son and holy spirit) when entering a football field or before a race and then the falling on the knees upon winning, the ‘finger-waving’ to the heavens and the gods, or kissing of the earth upon scoring a goal, breaking a record or winning. This was especially case during the World Cup football in the SA, reminding me of Cristobal de Colon first liturgical act upon landing in the Caribbean/Americas: he fell on the earth of what was new world to him, kissed the fertile soil giving thanks to God, and then rose and fell mightily upon the ‘Other’ – the friendly, welcoming and surprised Indians – with swords and guns.

Much may have changed but the enslavement continues as the stories of corruption, the rolling billboards and sponsored markings, stamps and brands all over the athletes suggest.

© jagessar August 2014

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