Mind Games: We write about and rejoice in fellow human beings who rise above the rest

2015-01-18 15:00

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In light of some of the events that have unfolded recently, from ­airplane disasters to incomprehensible massacres, from the ­appalling scourge of Ebola to unusual natural disasters, it seems almost frivolous to be concerned with sport.

Given the daily reminders of our country’s crumbling infrastructure and the increasingly vitriolic racial ­undertones overtaking our national discourse, it seems wrong to be concerned about who might win what in whichever activity.

It certainly provided a challenge for me as I struggled to find a subject for yet another column at the outset of ­another sporting year.

Fortunately, along came a news­paper article containing an intellectually snobbish dismissal of sports buffs.

The piece raised my ire and led me to defend the activities that have framed my working life for 45 years.

Call it escapism if you will, but at least sports pages and television programmes most often deal with towering human achievement.

Of course there are nefarious acts, such as drug-taking to enhance performance.

Of course there is despicable behaviour; of course some sportsmen and women are no more than spoiled brats; of course others are arrogant oafs. Of course some of the salaries paid are obscene.

But in its purest form, sport is about being the best, and shouldn’t that be the aim of humans? To be the best at whatever we do?

There is a tendency in the modern world to downplay ambition and ­desire, but would there ever have been any achievement without it?

In sport, the goal is clearly delineated.

There is a winning line; obvious in sports such as athletics and swimming and less so in team sports, but the distinction between success and failure is unmistakable.

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history to walk on our planet.

He is a showman and a character, but when it comes right down to it, he has, through hard work, refined his genetic gifts to be able to cover 100m and 200m faster than anyone before him.

It is just him, the track and an invisible electronic line that has to be broken and he does it quicker than all the super athletes surrounding him.

It is the same for Chad le Clos. He just has to cleave through the water and get to the other side in less time than his opponents.

It is such an untainted form of selection.

You do what you do and your time goes up on the board. If it is the fastest, or the distance you threw an object the furthest, or your leap the highest, you are the winner.

Golfers put their score on the board, cricketers compile their runs and footballers score their goals and the sum is a celebration of the Corinthian ideal of dedication, perfection and team spirit.

To try, in writer Rudyard Kipling’s immortal words, to “meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same”.

Sport can provide the inspiration for fine writing or beautifully descriptive passages in commentary, it can have a massive impact on national morale, and, as I picked through the many important dates across a spectrum of activities that could make 2015 quite a sporting year, my mood lifted.

Sports writers, described by writer Nicholas Dawidoff in the New York Times as “famously shop worn and bibulous”, may be confined to the back pages but every now and again we write and rejoice in fellow human beings who rise above the rest … and that is worth doing.

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