In a world where we are on the verge of the first million-pounds-a-week footballer, where the fans can barely afford to watch the games and teams, players, athletes and coaches are prepared to do all manner of scummy things to win, it feels like it might be time to question what it really is that makes sport such a great and important thing in the first place.
THEORY #1: SPORT IS A BUSINESS
It’s all about the dollar bills. The Olympics sponsored by McDonald’s. The Reebok stadium. The Carling cup. Ray Winston’s disembodied head telling you that there’s money to be made by betting on the score. Dive in the area. Score the penalty. Lift the trophy. Show me the money. Get a new agent, ditch the old manager and sell me to the team that pays me the most. It’s not show-friends, it’s show business.
THEORY #2: SPORT IS ENTERTAINMENT
It’s all about the drama. The controversy. Giving the people what they want. He said, she said. Who likes who. Who hates who. Who seeks redemption. Who falls from grace. The grudge match. The payback. The unsung heroes. The wonder-kid. The underdog. David versus Goliath. And all on pay-per-view followed by EastEnders, live on the box at seven with a takeaway.
But there is another theory…
THEORY #3: SPORT IS A FORM OF EDUCATION
The essence of sport is that everyone knows the goal, everyone knows the rules and on any given day in any given race, game, event or match the one’s that get the result are the one’s that deserved to win. Sport, in short, is a metaphor for life. You make the best of what you have. You strive to be better. You play hard. You try to play fair. And win, lose or draw you give the task your very best.
It matters not how luck decides your fate. If you train, learn, work hard and practice then the chance is there to fulfil your own potential. Any one of us can take on a challenge, rise to an occasion, come back from a heavy beating and succeed sometimes against the odds.
So it matters that winners don’t use drugs. It matters that cheaters don’t prosper. It matters that the sanctity of sport is not lost beneath the pound signs, the cameras, the ad boards and the Goodyear blimp.
Sport needs money to thrive and to prosper. It requires glamour and intrigue to capture the attention and acclaim of the widest possible audience. But you don’t sell more Cola by watering down the product.
We can’t all stand on the podium. We won’t all win the trophy or hear the cheers of the crowd. But we do get to learn something about what it means to compete and what it means to think, act and conduct yourself like a winner and a champion.
Our heroes show us who we can be. How adversity can be met with courage, defeat with dignity and success with magnanimity.
So when pundits and agents, suits and salesmen try to defend and condone the viral spreading of a special brand of cynicism; that the ends will always justify the means, that winning is all that matters no matter what the cost, they rob the rest of us of things we need to know when things don’t go our way.
For those of us who love sport, who see it as a lens through which we see the world, who grew up with a shared experience; a way of meeting life’s challenges in the face of all that’s thrown our way, it couldn’t matter more that the simplest of truths are not forgotten.
Sport is not just about cheap TV, marketing beer and lining people’s pockets. It also bonds us all together with a common language; a means of learning how to surf the highs and scale the lows, to get knocked down and know how to get back up again. But just when all seems lost and we feel like giving up is exactly when the lessons of sport are most important. And in the despair; that the purity of modern sport may have been sullied to the point of no return, it is worth recalling one of sport’s greatest traditions: everybody loves a comeback.