Sport is life


It was only during the world cup when it dawned on me that people have really strong opinions on what fairness is and that fairness isn’t the same to everyone (I know, I’m slow on the uptake). That’s why we’re fucked, I first thought when I realised this. People, when faced with the same set of facts and events, see different things and arrive at different conclusions. I see fair enough, you see blatantly unfair.

I like that soccer is subject to human flaws – missed, bad and wrong calls from the referee and all that – because it is a reflection of real life and its imperfections; and for me, a team that rises above a bad call and performs admirably is the real winner despite what the score line says. Yes, it’s fanciful and has echoes of boys don’t cry. I am comfortable with that.

But a friend who I agree with on most things thought it was reprehensible that soccer was still subject to the whims of human error. He is a huge soccer fan but almost stopped watching the world cup because of the bad refereeing. There is technology to solve all of that, he said. He wants a game where all the calls are 100 percent correct. How can I argue with that? On the face of it, he has to be right.

Formula 1 is almost as popular as soccer, but unlike soccer, its rules evolve daily (I kid, but not by much). F1 has modern technology oozing out of every orifice including the rear diffuser. That doesn’t, however, stop people from feeling cheated of a fair result. The whole Ferrari team orders fiasco from the German grand prix is testament to that. A fair result, it seems, is one where the drivers head out on track, race hard and whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner. How can I argue with that? Surely that is correct?

Sport and the way we feel toward it, I think, often reflects how we view and approach life. This is especially true for us raised as male because sport is often an inexorable part of male socialisation. Sport teaches this to boys: men roll with the punches, men rise to challenges and men are never defeated. Every single sport-based movie has those lessons.

To me, life’s dirty and unfair and full of 50:50 calls, but amid all of that and from surviving all of that, there is beauty and ultimately some kind of victory. Sure, there are checks and balances here and there but by and large, when life sucks, you cannot go running to a ref for some kind of remedy. For me, life would not be any better or fairer if we were to regulate and legislate out all its dirty, unfair and 50:50 calls. I may be a victim of my socialisation in this thinking, but there’s the very important evolutionary instinct of survival somewhere in all of this. As I quite like surviving, I’m gonna roll with it.

These calls for tighter regulation in sport, I think, are a spill-over from life in general. If you look at recent history, our collective society has been subject to quite a few bad calls. I’m not sure if these are more egregious or great in number than in the past but for whatever reason, our general response has been to pass more laws and tighten regulation. It seems that there is a somewhat of a consensus that it is possible to control (and I’m going to use a generic word intentionally) things. This thinking seems to have overlapped into sport.

I guess part of what I’m saying here is that as soon as sport becomes some people’s definition of fair, we’d be best advised to point our kids elsewhere for stories of triumph against all odds. The rest of what I’m trying to say, pah, forget it.


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