WHY DO WE ENJOY SPORTS SO MUCH?
By CAMERON DUODU
The weekend at the beginning of July 2012 – 7th and 8th July, to be exact – was a festive one for lovers of sports.
On the Saturday, Serena Williams defeated Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland to win her 5th Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles title.
One reporter with ageism snaking through his brain like a flesh-eating virus, summed up the significance of Serena’s victory in these words: “At 30…Serena Williams became the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title since Czech-turned American Martina Navratilova some 22 years ago,”
“Oldest woman”? Who on earth was this fact-starved
journalist who could look on Serena Williams and summon the words “oldest woman” to apply to her?
Then, the next day, Great Britain went on a binge of “Murraymania”! This term refers to the worship of a tennis player called Andy Murray, who had qualified for the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final. Murray was the first Briton to reach the Wimbledon Final since Bunny Austin in 1938. If he won, he would be the first Briton to win the title in 76 years.
So, no matter that the opponent Murray was to meet, a Swiss man called Roger Federer, had won Wimbledon six times before. The British believed that Murray would win, and egged him on. But the facts stood in the way: Federer had also won a record 17 Grand Slam titles. Murray, at 25, had been runner-up in three Grand Slam finals — the 2008 US Open, the 2010 Australian Open, and the 2011 Australian Open – but had never won any of them. Nevertheless, Murray had beaten Federer more times in tournaments than Federer had beaten him! He’d beaten Federer 8 times to Federer’s 7. So there was every hope that Murray could win at Wimbledon 2012.
This was a hope entertained by almost everyone in the “United Kingdom” or “Great Britain”. Yes – on this day, Murray, although a Scot, was regarded as a fellow-national by even the most nationalistic English people, despite the well-known differences that surface when the question of nationality comes up in “England”. Murray, on Wimbledon Finals day, was the darling of everyone — the English, the Welsh and the Irish, as well as his fellow Scots. The Scots even appeared not to mind sharing him – although they are anxious to decouple the rest of Great Britain from their petroleum resources and much else.
Although Murray lost to Federer in the Wimbledon Final (4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4) he gave his countrymen hope. Indeed, he pointed out, amidst his tears of defeat, that Federer was “30 years old”! In other words, Murray-mania has at least, another five years — perhaps more years — to run. I mean, look at Federer! Certainly, if the outpourings of the British media are anything to go by, Murray doesn’t even have to win Wimbledon to be considered one of the greatest British heroes of all time. Getting to the final has been enough. But, of course, if he could win, it would be better still. Wheel on Wimbledon 2013.
At the same time as the Wimbledon gladiatorial contest was going on, the British Formula One Grand Prix was also taking place. The approaches to the venue of the race, Silverstone, and the circuit’s car parks in particular, had been turned into impassable mud-fields by torrential rain over the preceding two days – so much so that on Qualifying Day (Saturday) the organisers of the race had advised ticket holders not to turn up. The advice was not followed. Race Day (Sunday) was worse as far as attendance was concerned: the full complement of ticket-holders turned up. Yes, the mud stuck to their boots, but so what? If you want to see doughty sports lovers, come to Britain.
Unfortunately, the British former world champion in whom most hope was placed, Lewis Hamilton, could not drive as fast as he normally does. For the outcome of the race was decided almost entirely by tyre strategy. The uncertain weather had made it necessary to gamble with the choice of tyres between dry, medium and wet tyres, and the Red Bull team was better at this than McLaren. So Red Bull’s Australian driver, Mark Webber, won the race, followed by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel coming third. Lewis Hamilton was only able to place 8th.
Nevertheless, Hamilton was cheered all the way by the crowd of loyal British spectators. I am sure that if our own Asamoah-Gyan had been British, it would never have entered his head to leave the Black Stars, just because he had lost a penalty kick in the shoot-out with Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup. We have to learn from British spectators that “all days are not equal” and that if you win some, you must of necessity lose some.
You will note that I say “spectators”. For not all the British have forgiving hearts. The British sports journalists especially are like Ghanaian spectators – they create sports icons and then bring them down hard to earth when they fail. This year has been the exception: their attitude to Murray shows clearly that they have forsaken their previous snide stance, which amounted to constantly castigating him as “the nearly man.”
In the United States, where sports means really big bucks, largely because of the influence of rich television deals, the attitude to sports heroes sometimes approaches the absolutely absurd. When the basketball player, LeBron James, was about to leave his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for the Miami Heats 2 seasons ago, one television network, ESPN, kept everyone on tenterhooks for 24 hours by announcing that it would mount a special programme, entitled “The Decision”, on which LeBron would announce whether he was leaving Cleveland or staying.
When LeBron eventually made his announcement that he was leaving Cleveland, his methodology was greeted with extreme bitterness by Cleveland fans. The Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, published an open letter to fans in which he bitterly tore into LeBron James. As if he owned LeBron and should be able to prevent him from joining the team he thought would win him the NBA championship and get him the championship ring he coveted above everything else. Some Cleveland citizens were even incited enough to tell LeBron “not to bother to come back” to the city, which is his hometown! As if it was their right to determine where any other US citizen should live or work.
The irrational attitude of sports fans towards their heroes is, of course, not new. In an article that brilliantly fused the principles of physics, history and the classics with those of sports, entitled: “LeBron James Is a Sack of Melons”, the New York Times [ 5July 2012] reminded its readers that ancient literature is littered with sportsmania.
The author, Sam Anderson, opened with the statement: “There comes a time in the life span of every culture when it becomes necessary to think obsessively about LeBron James.” LeBron James, he implied, was present in the psyche of the ancient Greeks “in the 5th century B.C.”. Then, “LeBron James” [a.k.a. Hercules] was the “most dominant athlete in the Olympic Games.”
Eight hundred years later, LeBron James materialised again in the form of a “a gladiator” in the Roman Empire. [Spartacus perhaps? The author implies this, but doesn’t actually say so!] Among the 16th-century Aztecs, he continues, LeBron James was the undisputed king of “the ullamaliztli players”, who bounced balls off their hips or off their knees or threw themselves to the ground in order to bounce the ball off their spines.
“It is now our turn, here in 21st-century America, to think obsessively about LeBron James.” Anderson adds: “Now that the planets have at last aligned for James — now that he has his title and excelled in crunch time and silenced pretty much all of his critics — we can finally read him as a coherent sports narrative … LeBron James is the unanimous M.V.P. [Most Valuable Player] of interplanetary quarkball…. His highlights, which recur infinitely, are too numerous to name: there is the match in which he splits 12 of his team’s final 13 atoms; the match in which he rides every wave of the light spectrum, visible and invisible, all the way to the event horizon of the neighbouring galaxy’s black hole; the match in which he executes a spin move so powerful that it opens a parallel world. And yet despite all of these heroics, just because of the nature of quarkball, it is impossible to tell whether James is winning or losing.”
Surely, that is the answer to the question: why do we love sports so much? Yes – we both win and lose when we watch sports: we win with the winner, but because we cannot – personally – play like him or her, we also lose. What a delightful state to be in – permanent abeyance! With beer or soft drink to hand, and a mobile-phone nearby to exchange delicious moments with friends and family…. Long live King Sports!
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