Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
For an atheist who does not care about religions, of which organized sports is also one, I do keep track of major religious events. Like the soccer World Cup.
Why bother with something that I do not care about?
As I wrote in my commentary that was published on June 13, 2010, against the backdrop of the World Cup twelve years ago: "A sport is, thus, more than merely about the game itself. It presents yet another opportunity to begin to understand the peoples of the world, and their cultures and politics."
To understand the people, their cultures and politics. Best exemplified already by the Iranian team's response to their national anthem--they intentionally did not sing along and instead kept their mouths tightly shut as "an apparent show of solidarity on the world's biggest stage with the human rights protest movement that has swept their home country." It is not merely a soccer team, is it?
Oh, and Iran lost to England. Note that Iran did not lose to the United Kingdom but to England.
Meanwhile the US tied with Wales.
Aren't England and Wales part of the UK? How come they field separate teams?
Aha, I have left you with more evidence that the soccer World Cup is a lot more than merely kicking the ball with the feet, unless god's hand intervenes, right?
The following is my commentary from June 2010:
How Soccer Explains the World
Every game has its own quirky rules. American football has plenty of those. Cricket is nothing but one quirky rule after another. If one does not grow up playing the sport, explaining the rules of the game to a newbie can be extremely complicated. Have you ever attempted explaining soccer's "offside" rule to one who has no idea about the game?
Remember how Calvin invented his own games? Calvin had loads of fun inventing his own games and playing them--and it seemed like he never played the same game twice because he was always creating new rules, if not new games. Like here, for instance:
Even worse, we want players to win at any cost. In sport and in politics, we Americans and many in the rest of the world too have decided that winning is the only thing, even if it means to bend the rules as much as we can. Fair play is apparently for losers!
Fair play has always been important to me and that carries over to every aspect of my life, whether it was at work from which I was laid off a year ago, or with family and friends. To such an extent that I walk away from people--colleagues and family alike--if they sharply deviate from fair play and express no regrets over their actions.
Fourteen years ago--yes, in 2008--I authored a commentary on fair play and sportsmanship. As you settle down to watch the soccer world cup that is played in an authoritarian emirate, or the college football playoffs that add millions of dollars to a select few, keep an eye out on the total lack of sportsmanship and you will be shocked at the barbarians that these games make out of humans.
Here is my commentary from May 27, 2008:
Flicking through the television channels the other day, I paused at a basketball playoff game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz, which was such a close one that it eventually was settled in overtime.
The commentator made interesting remarks that are quite the norm in such contexts, analyzing who was in foul trouble and how many fouls each team had “left to give.”
Fouls left to give? There is no more talk of sports promoting sportsmanship, camaraderie and cooperation. Instead, it is about “fouls left to give” until players are ejected.
Increasingly, fouls and penalties are no longer results of players’ accidents or mistakes. Coaches and players systematically exploit this as a loophole with the sole intention of restricting the opponent’s performance.
It is not uncommon to see a basketball player intentionally grabbing an opposing team’s player if that will prevent a sure two points.
It is so often used against Shaquille O’Neal that we now have the sports jargon, “hack-a-Shaq.” A football cornerback might commit pass interference if it appears that without that penalty the wide receiver might coast into the end zone for a touchdown.
The manner in which fans respond to these fouls indicates that they, too, see it as legitimate maneuvering.
I wonder, then, if involvement in athletics might end up doing more harm than good. What will children learn if their coach teaches them to grab the player in order to prevent an opponent from scoring? Is the lesson to focus on winning at any cost, fully understanding that they have “fouls to give”?
It is bizarre that we have zero-tolerance policies in educational settings, even as we could instruct the same children that they have “fouls to give” on the playground.
It is no stretch to argue that this notion of “fouls to give” is becoming common in society.
The havoc that Enron brought upon its employees, shareholders and the rest of the world was nothing but a reflection of its decision-makers’ thinking that their transgressions were within their “fouls to give.” Professionals advise corporations on how to exploit loopholes in the law — a variation of fouls to give.
Political campaigning is along the same lines: Candidates or their surrogates intentionally commit fouls, then pay appropriate penalties and carry on, because, hey, that is how the game is played.
As an academic concerned about more than mere curricular issues, I am always perturbed when students and colleagues commit fouls. You can, therefore, imagine my sheer delight with the recent softball incident in a game between Central Washington University and Western Oregon University, where I teach.
In case you missed that news item: A lot was at stake because the winner of that game qualified for the regionals. With two on base, at the plate was a diminutive graduating Western senior who had never homered in her life. She hit her first home run ever, then badly injured her knee at first base while making her way around the bases.
Two fielders from Central carried her around the bases, which counted as a home run for Western. The gregarious Central team went on to the lose the game, while Western moved on to the regionals, and won the first round there, too.
It was a remarkable story of sportsmanship and offered an absolute contrast to the “fouls to give” calculations that are otherwise the norm.
In the spirit of using athletics to forge a greater sense of humanity, imagine the following scenario, which might sound as if it is coming from another planet. Well, given that I am from India, it might well be an alien thought!
The next academic year, when the Oregon Ducks play hosts to Pac-10 football teams at the loud and boisterous Autzen Stadium, it will almost always be a midday or late afternoon game. That means that there will be ample time for the Ducks to play a different type of host again: to sit down with the visiting team and have dinner after the game. The bands from the host and visiting teams can play a few numbers as entertainment for the evening.
An outrageous idea, I realize. But what a powerful message it can convey, particularly to the youth! The university even can make a fundraiser out of this, splitting the proceeds with the visiting teams.
It would be a huge step in the right direction. The focus, after all, is on the common cause of developing one’s skills and learning and playing the game to one’s fullest. I can easily imagine that such an attitude will quickly lead to players and spectators alike relearning the forgotten idea that there is no place for “fouls to give.”
In my book, nice guys never finish last, but are winners all the time.