Monday, 28 February 2011

The Thriller in Bengaluru: Why We Love Sport

Sunday was an amazing day for English sport. First, underdogs Birmingham City beat favourites Arsenal FC (and deservedly so) in the final of the Carling Cup. Then, India and England tied a sensational game of cricket at Bengaluru (Bangalore) (a footballing equivalent would be drawing 4-4 against Brazil). Why do we love sports so much?

Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Strauss celebrate their centuries. (Courtesy:

The cynics tell us that sport is a metaphor for war. There's some truth to that – some of the rivalries between clubs here in Britain and around the world are not healthy; many of them reflect underlying ethnic and/or communal tensions. The fever pitch of an India-Pakistan cricket match, possibly unmatched in intensity elsewhere, clearly is rooted in the tragic history of conflict between these two nations. Another explanation would be the adrenaline rush – maybe the same reason we love action movies and horror flicks but this time it's for real but without the explosions or bloody corpses. Perhaps a more modern cynic might say that sport has replaced religion as the opium of the masses. Our stadiums are our cathedrals.

For me, sport is so simply yet fundamentally human an activity. The Ronaldos, Woodses and Federers are fantastic athletes – but they are still human. They remind me (in a limited fashion, admittedly) of who I can be and what I can achieve in my own life. The challenges I face in life are manifold – some relatively easy, some formidable; many of them I can and will overcome, some of them will get the better of me. But the hope of success drives me forward, the enjoyment of the journey keeps me from looking back.

Sport is never purely individualistic. Even a Bolt needs a whole team of coaches, trainers, physios and so on. All sports are team sports. My life is also a team sport – I cannot succeed without a community to support me in my dreams, to challenge me in my complacency, to befriend me in my loneliness, to console me in my set-backs, to rejoice with me in my accomplishments. I still may not achieve my dreams, but I have gained something of value. Hopefully, my friends will caution me when my dreams are too high and encourage me when they're too low.

And it's not just about “my” dream – it's “our” dream really. Yesterday, Arsenal were man-for-man a more talented, technically gifted side. But it wasn't enough. What they lacked in talent, Birmingham made up for with their spirit, desire, effort and camaraderie. I like it when my team puts on a superior performance and wins comfortably; but I love it when they have to draw on their deepest reserves of courage and hope. We love our teams winning, but we want to see them win the right way too. We want our friends, our communities, our nations to do well – but we want to see them do it the right way. The best players, the best teams, have an ethics to them. Beauty and goodness – we see it in them as sportspersons and as persons simpliciter.

So, even though my beloved India didn't win the game yesterday, I am still cheered up. We humans know how to keep our heads high, even when others are trying their best to leave them hanging. And the game – and life – is made the better for it.

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