Tips for Life

by Alan Bailey

Sport — The magnificent obsession

sports fan
A young rugby league fan celebrates a try at Parramatta Stadium. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Among the news reports of earthquakes, wars, floods and fires, there is sure to be a solid segment of the latest sporting events won and lost. Then, a run-down on all the up-coming contests for trophies and glory.

It’s big. 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 more.

For some, it’s an interest, a pastime. For others it’s an essential ingredient of life. 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

I wonder where people 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 competitions? 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 to lose by it.

Keeping it in context

The thing that troubles people like me is the utter seriousness which surrounds organized sport. Now, I know there must be serious moments, even heart-stopping suspense, but why must it always be serious business for so many. It takes over so much time, money, thinking, ambition and affection. In a sense, it rules.

It’s not too strong to call it a religion. Think of its rituals. Some ceremonies rival appearances of the Pope. Think of the fanatical adherance to codes, the quoting of the book of rules — to the point that erring umpires deserve to be condemned 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 or that individual or team wins or loses? So what if this or that country wins the trophy? Does it really matter 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 piece 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. They have failed to gain the all-important--getting into a right relationship with God. How fatal, how foolish this obsession may turn out to be in the end. And, after all, wouldn’t any sporting coach say that what’s on the board at the end is what counts

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