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Why we need a sporting chance
SPORT really does have the power to lift us out of ourselves when things aren’t looking great.
A cliché, I suppose, but I speak as someone who was heading rapidly into the realms of spectator-sport cynicism: someone who was sick of hearing about how many days it was to London 2012 and never even considered trying for a ticket; who felt increasingly uncomfortable about the number of “England” players, in both cricket and rugby union, who were born somewhere in southern Africa; who had found he didn’t really understand his favourite sport any more (rugby union again); who couldn’t care less whether Harry or Woy got the England job and who feared for Andy Murray’s sanity as he became Britain’s great hope again for a very intense couple of weeks.
But now I feel my enthusiasm is rising just a bit; maybe just enough to get me through now the Olympics are finally nearly upon us. It’s certainly enough for me to take a slightly less jaded look at the wider impact of sport and conclude that, despite everything, it is generally positive. More than that, we need it.
The last great outbreak of sporting enthusiasm was, of course, Murraymania, which is rapidly receding as Wimbledon fades into our collective memory. Our man lost at the last gasp, though this was surely more down to the excellence of Roger Federer than any failings on Murray’s part.
But Murray still provided a focus, someone for people to get behind and forget their mundane or troubled lives.
This was what sport can do; providing an opportunity for people to give vent to passion and enthusiasm, to get out of themselves and put everything into someone else’s great quest.
Just imagine the impact if he’d actually won, you may say. True, but even if he had the effect would still be fading now. Sporting lifts are always temporary, as everyday problems return to haunt us and another potential sporting high comes on the horizon to offer new distractions. Even the 1966 World Cup is remembered now more because of our regret at never repeating the feat than for the joy of actually winning.
That’s something for the cynic to pick on; sport’s effects don’t last, like a drug, and you need new highs to keep coming along. This is shamelessly exploited by those who profit from our sporting mania. Indeed, isn’t the whole thing a kind of opiate of the masses, designed to keep us quiet while the crooks at the top rip us off yet again?
And, after all that, even if Murray had won or Woy’s boys had been crowned kings of Europe the economic outlook would still be dire, the crooks would still be in charge and it would probably still be raining outside.
Well, at least some of that may be true. But it’s precisely because we have to wake up and face those problems that we need the escapism of sport to give us a bit of respite. The lift is temporary, but it’s better than none at all.
As for all the scandals and corruption in organised sport, plus the bad behaviour and selfishness of some of its better-paid “stars” – well, maybe we need that too.
Maybe we need all the negative and ridiculous stuff in sport to remind us that it is actually just a distraction and not the answer to all our dreams, that we have real life to get on with too. Getting too serious, and too tribal, about sport just undermines the while thing.
And my own biggest sporting lift of the year so far, which helped to push back the boundaries of my sporting cynicism?
You may be surprised to learn it was the much-maligned England footballers’ Euro-win over Sweden, a game I hadn’t meant to watch but which left me smiling after an otherwise lousy day.
Exciting and infuriating in turns, it was exactly what sport should be. Now let’s get cheering for Mo and Jessica.