Friday, July 03, 2015

Sports has meaning. We render it meaningless!

As a kid, I loved playing indoor and outdoor games alike.  I sucked at cricket, football (soccer,) table tennis, badminton, and (field) hockey; yet, I loved playing them all at school and with the neighborhood kids.

Even the fights that resulted whenever my brother and I played never prevented us from playing again the next day.  I think--or, at least, I like to think that passionate competition, even fist fight, was something I came to expect.  But, right from my young days, I didn't like rough and unsportsman-like attitudes that were driven by a goal to win at any cost.  Winning mattered, yes, but the road to the win was way more important.  One of my favorite memories in cricket is of GR Viswanath recalling the opposing side's batsman after the umpire had ruled him out.  No wonder then that I even wrote an op-ed, seven years ago, dealing with that issue of sportsmanship.

Fair play has always been important to me and that carries over to every aspect of my life--whether it is at work or with family and friends.  To such an extent that I walk away from people--colleagues and family alike--when they sharply deviate from fair play.

These days, I spend even less time than I ever had on watching sports or playing games.  (Well, bridge aside, that is!)  As a news junkie, I scan the latest in the sporting world too, which is how I came to know about England getting booted out of the World Cup:
It was a soccer player’s worst nightmare. With seconds left in a World Cup semifinal on Wednesday, Laura Bassett of England lunged for the ball and accidentally kicked it into her own net.
Seconds later, the whistle blew. Japan had won, 2-1, and Bassett and many other England players were left in tears.
Even during the days that I followed sports with emotions, I could never enjoy winning because I always felt awful for the ones who lost and for their fans.  As I get older, I seem to love the losers even more.  Thus, when I read about this soccer disaster, I was reminded of the Colombian player's fate--he was shot dead for the goal that he ended up kicking for the opponent while defending the ball.  Thankfully, Bassett is being treated well, though one might wonder if some old gender stereotypes are being reinforced in the process:
“Crying is a human emotional response,” Cooky said. “Because sports is so highly masculinized, it’s O.K. for men to cry. When a female athlete cries, it gets read much differently.”
And longstanding differences like those are hard to shake.
“We see male athletes as athletes first,” Cooky said. “We see female athletes as women first.”
Anyway, why do we value sports so much?

An academic philosopher has blogged about this very issue, and he quotes from "the scurrilous Sri Lankan cricket novel Chinaman by Shena Karunatilaka":
"I have been told by members of my own family that there is no use or value in sports. I only agree with the first part. I may be drunk but I am not stupid. Of course there is little point to sports. But, at the risk of depressing you, let me add two more cents. THERE IS LITTLE POINT TO ANYTHING. In a thousand years, grass will have grown over all our cities."
Makes for an interesting point: if there is little point to anything, then why not value sports, right?
Maybe physical skills are less important than purity of character or artistic creativity. The more basic point is that they are valuable in just the same way as other things. Someone who devotes their life to high-jumping or baseball is no less serious a person than someone who devotes it to the ballet, say, or to making money. There is nothing intrinsically dilettante about sports compared with other walks of life.
Certainly.  But, even with those examples, I am left wondering why ballet is vastly undervalued compared to baseball.  
Pride in physical performance is a deep-seated feature of human nature. Humans hone their physical abilities and take delight in exercising them. Perhaps this originally had its roots in the practical needs of hunting, fishing and fighting, but we have come to value physical performance as an end in itself.
Aha, I think that is where my problems with sports lie: "we have come to value physical performance as an end in itself."  We have vaulted sports to such high a pedestal--as if our entire existence is about such things!


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