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On the Truthfulness of Sports
by Alexandra Pereira
2008-08-28 08:24:07
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One of the reasons which have made me give up watching most football games – such a sin for the pride of a southern European! – or even most athletics competitions has to do with this statistical fact of high-level sports events nowadays: an increasing number of referees who are bought (sometimes not only with money but also with prostitutes politely called escorts or other so-called “luxury goods” often as prosaic as a golden Rolex), too many athletes who take drugs harming themselves and deceiving the fans for a couple of years of glory and profitable contracts, immoral doctors who give the drugs to the athletes to keep their jobs and increase their salaries, corrupt club owners and insatiable coaches.     

I mean, people have the right not to feel cheated – if you want to be cheated, then you can go and see the circus when it comes to town, there all kinds of tricks are allowed... performed by the magicians or the clowns or the trapezists or even the unicyclist, it doesn’t matter. Those circus tricks are not harmful but charming most of the times, actually, as fantasizing is part of the enchantment.

This is not even a matter of taking sports too seriously (or circus too lightly), but giving them the dignity they should have instead (and giving the audiences the respect they deserve), realising the role of fairness as an athlete scores another point or crosses the finishing line. Fair-play, you know... the sports for the sports and to achieve a certain level of excellence, not merely to achieve worldwide celebrity, a spacious household and a reasonable Lamborghini. 

Good athletes compete with themselves, those who escape such confrontation by using chemical or bureaucratic shortcuts are not athletes but cheaters or marketeers. I miss the simplicity and no-interest character of sports, their beauty and poetry, their whole range of potentials or possibilities beyond the watch collection of a given sponsor and the vacations in Bermuda that the advertisement money can buy for the delighted sprinter and his three former girlfriends.

Excellence, consistency, honesty, aesthetics, work, fairness, balance and justice, health and joy, discipline, pleasure – all those are traditional sports values. It’s as if many high-level athletes wanted to keep or increase the pleasurable values and outcomes of sports accomplishments while dispensing the work, honesty, discipline or justice involved. This happens because current sports events which are heavily mediatic have become a kind of entertainment show where immediacy is priceless. Not that those true sports values don’t exist anymore, they do… but you can find them mostly out of high-level sports competitions. And no one shows them on the telly.

True sports emphasize companionship and develop a strong sense of community, they stress competition more with yourself than with the others, release aggressive impulses constructively, promote excellence, discipline and balance, as well as an aesthetic and ludic sense. When you practice sports, neurochemicals are released which produce strong feelings of relaxation and pleasure, that is why some people become “sports addicted” short after starting to work out. It’s not a bad “addiction” though.    

Then there is all the romantic aura of sports and the way how they are, at any age, a good excuse to… socialize. I remember when I was a kid in Portugal, for a couple of years I played in a local 5-player female football team, sometimes as a goalkeeper and often as a... dangerous striker (how multi-faceted!). I had 13 or 14 and most of my beautiful and proudly soccer-untalented colleagues and neighbours (they were both things, sometimes also more or less distant family members, or even cousins by affinity) were 16 or 17 year-old teenagers.

Apart from being affectionately nicknamed by some of them as “the little one” and the unpleasant experience (as a dangerous striker) of being kicked down on the concrete field and bruised by the manlike thirty-something straight-married steroid-taking lesbian women of the opposite teams which represented neighbouring cities (I always wonder why not political parties), I must admit that a significant part of the charm of such games had to do either with the fact that we were often trained and watched by interesting members of our counterpart male team or invited to dance by them, in the cheerful parties that followed our usual… defeats.

Ah, the magic of sports! Another pearl of those nostalgic memories is open-air training under the 33ºC of the Portuguese Summer and river-bathing to compensate for that, as well as my father’s panic that the hormone-pampered flirtatious nature of my good-looking teenager team mates would awake me too early for the seductions of the opposite gender. Four marriages and six serious dates later, none of which involved me, my father’s conscience was relieved. Now seriously, being truthful in sports teaches kids to be truthful in life… and trains them for self-humour when defeats hit them.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-08-28 11:38:37
It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Sadly, we have reached a point in our global civilization when that truism may apply to sports as well. The ancient Greeks conceived of the Olympics as an interruption of war. Herbert Marcuse thought that in the coming progressive “enlighten” society devoid of the sacred sports would become the sublimation of war among nations. It never came to pass. What has happened, unfortunately, is that sports have become the metaphor for war among nations: the war of the gold medals. Consider the Olympics that just ended. They opened with a war in Georgia and with one of the spectators, Mr. Putin, rushing home to direct it. The whole idea was turned up-side-down: the Olympics became a pretext to start a war. Surely the opening ceremony with thousands beating their drums in the bird’s nest must have psyched up Mr. Putin for such a task. The ceremony paid homage to the wisdom of Confucianism and freedom of speech, but the sad reality was different: it was just an hypocritical show; ask the Dai La Lama and he’ll tell you why. He may also tell you that lying and slandering undermines the deep seated desire to survive of the human species. The truth is like oxygen for our minds and soul. To disassociate truth and honesty from sport’s games is to kill the soul and to provide a deplorable example for the young and impressionable. It is indeed like sowing the first seeds of a civilization’s eventual downfall.

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