By Alan Bailey
In a world where empires collapse, earthquakes devastate, assassins slay and armies crush, no news is as important to many Australians as who won the footy. We are sport crazy. At least, it could easily look that way to some outside observer.
Think of the hours of coverage on the telly. Then see the procession of parents following their children to the playing fields, the netball and tennis courts, the swimming pools, the gymnasiums and so on. 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 - rendering life 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 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 didn't have systematic exercise? Would they learn to lose well in the game of life if they didn't learn it in sporting competition? Where would they learn team spirit, comradeship, courtesy toward rivals and a host of values like determination, courage, endurance and mental and physical discipline?
Keeping it in context
The thing that troubles people like me is the utter seriousness which surrounds organized sport. Some ceremonies rival appearances of the Pope. Think of the fanatical adherence to codes, the quoting of the Book of Rules to the point where erring umpires almost deserve to be condemned as heretics. 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
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 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? At last we will see that our relationship to God matters more than anything else. How fatal, how foolish the 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?•