With billions of people watching the FIFA World Cup matches and the final on Sunday, it is a good time to reflect on the noble vision of sport and the heart of a champion or champions.
Sport in essence brings about unity in diversity because there is little or no discrimination based on race or religion, caste or colour though at times there have been aberrations like the recent apartheid era when coloured players were banned, and South Africa itself was thrown out of international sport till the legendary Nelson Mandela turned that curse into a blessing.
In Sri Lanka our national, club and school teams comprise players from all races and religions, the poor and the rich. Merit and character are the main qualifying standards. For instance, Sri Lanka has produced Muttiah Muralitharan who is acclaimed as the greatest spin bowler in world cricket history while another minority community member Angelo Mathews is the Captain of the Sri Lanka cricket team which last month won a Test series against England for the first time in the home base of cricket.
Though ancient Olympic games were held from 776 B.C., the modern Olympics started 118 years ago in Greece. The land of the great ancient philosophers like Aristotle, Plato and Socretes launched sports also on the hallowed philosophy and motto that “When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He will write not whether you won or lost but how you played the game”.
In the 1960s, Sir Frank Worrell’s Caribbean or West Indies cricket team lost the Test series against Richie Benaud’s Australian team, but Worrell’s players including the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers won the hearts of millions of cricket fans because of their sportsmanship, vision and mission. They fought the good fight, they kept the faith, and they completed the race with such wonderful virtues that the victorious Australia gave them a hero’s send-off. It was this same spirit which carried pace bowler Courtney Walsh to memorable heights in another Test match against Australia. The home team needed a couple of runs to win when Walsh ran up to bowl the last ball. He saw the batsman at the bowling end moving out of the batting crease and according to the rules Walsh could have ‘Mankaded’ – or run-out the batsman to give the Caribbeans a victory. Instead Walsh stopped and cautioned the batsman. Walsh went back and again bowled the last ball, which was hit for a boundary. Australia won the match, but the name of Walsh was written in the hearts of millions and the halls of fame.
Unfortunately, during the past four decades the selfishness, greed and other vices of the globalised capitalist market economic policies have invaded the playing fields. It has become a Waterloo for sports and no longer could we say that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Gradually the vocation of sports, with its spirit of intense but fair competitiveness, saw a negative change of goal posts. Sports, to a large degree today, have become not only a business but also a foul business with match fixing, foul play like Luis Suarez’s notorious bite and instances of players taking banned energy enhancing drugs.
SOS today could mean save our sports. Essentially, like the United States goal keeper Tim Howard who was crowned Secretary of Defence after he made 16 brilliant saves in the match against Germany, the response to the SOS needs to come from the players themselves. Money is being worshipped in sports today as in many other fields. The players must come to the awareness that they cannot serve money and the noble spirit of how they play the game. If the right spirit is revived, the world cup that is won will not be just for four years but forever.