By Alan Bailey
In a world where empires collapse, earthquakes devastate, assassins slay and armies crush, no news is as important to most 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, throw, swing, dive, drive, pedal, dance, skate, ski, wrestle, box—and add what you will.
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, can 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 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 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 in Australia. 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 and affection?
It's not too far out to call it a religion. Think of the rituals that surround the finals. Think of the fanatical adherence to codes, the quoting of the Book of Rules—to the point where the erring umpire needs to be condemned as a heretic. 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 wins or lose? So what if this or that team goes down next Saturday? So what if America wins the next Olympics? Does it 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 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? How fatal, how foolish the Aussie 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?
All the while, God has waited for us to consider Him and enter a new relationship with Him. A Saviour has paid a great price to save us from ourselves and our sin. How wrong to ignore Him. The wages of sin is death; the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.•