Monday, July 21, 2014

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.

I will make this comment brief, because it’s more in the nature of a reflection than a full-blown essay.
I am writing this after having watched both the two semi-finals and the final in FIFA’s World Cup. Germany defeated Brazil 7-1 in a game that was fast and humiliating for Brazil. The Netherlands and Argentina drew nil-all in a boring contest that was decided in a penalty shoot-out, which Argentina won. So Germany and Argentina faced off in the final. Mercifully, Germany won by the match's one goal near the end of extended play, so we were spared another penalty shoot-out. I felt very sorry for the great Argentinian striker Messi, who did his darndest. But the outcome makes no difference to my viewpoint.
I am not a great sports fan and never have been.
Even though I went to an all-male secondary school where rugby was the unofficial religion, and being a sportsman was the only way one could become a prefect, I managed to avoid completely ever taking part in any organised sport whatsoever. One day a year, the whole school had to participate in a “marathon”. My participation consisted of running for a couple of hundred yards and then walking the rest of the course in a leisurely fashion, coming back into the school gates (with about a quarter of the student body, I might add) an hour or so after the real runners had returned. My own extra-curricular activities at school consisted of acting and debating, and I was rewarded in my last year by getting the leading role in the school play.
I will be clearly understood here. I am not anti-sport. If people enjoy it, good for them. Nor am I allergic to exercise. I like taking long walks and, when I have the chance, I love bush tramping. But when, some years back, I realized that not only had I never played rugby, but that in my whole life I had never even watched a game of rugby in its entirety, I consciously decided to keep it that way.
Soccer, on the other hand, is a different matter. At least one of my sons was, and still occasionally is, a pretty good soccer player (or as we non-rugby people like to say, footballer). Some of my daughters played the game at junior level. And though I don’t go out of my way to watch soccer matches, I can be persuaded to go and watch a match if it’s likely to be a pleasant social occasion. And I always try to watch the World Cup final.
But there is the national chauvinist aspect in international sports contests, and this is my real theme for today’s sermon. I’ve said I’m not anti-sport, but I really am anti the nationalistic nonsense that goes with it, the assumption that sport is somehow tied to the destiny of a nation, or that in its international guise it is anything other than a business.
Let me give you a really crass example. In FIFA’s World Cup, Brazil and Germany have in recent years been the most conspicuous champions (Brazil seven times in the finals and five times the winner; Germany seven times in the finals and four times the winner). Italy is also one of the champions (four times winner, but two of those wins were way back in the 1930s). England and France languish some way down the list of the twelve nations that have made it into World Cup finals. France has twice been in the finals, but has only once won. England has only once been in the finals, and that was also the one and only time England won, nearly fifty years ago now, in 1966.
But how poisonous that national feeling becomes when it is related to sport. It really is a substitute for warfare.
Item – the English, who generally perform very badly at the World Cup (and whose club teams at home are largely made up of lavishly-paid Spaniards and Frenchmen and even Germans), have to have somebody to cheer for in the World Cup final, but this also means they have to have somebody to hate. So they have decided their sworn enemy is Germany and almost any other nation that meets Germany in a final will be the nation English football fans will cheer for.
My wife and I happened to be in London twelve years ago, at the time Germany and Brazil were the World Cup finalists. The tabloid newspapers were filled with anti-German bilge, including one which had a big front-page picture of the desired cup itself with the headline “Hans Off!” 
Such witticism. 
The afternoon of the match, my wife and I had been doing something totally non-sporty. We’d been at a matinee performance of a Shakespeare play (in fact a delightfully blood-thirsty condensation of the little-performed Henry VI plays). We came out into the pale London light to find the streets filled with Cockneys cheering and yipping and waving Brazilian colours because “their” team had won the World Cup. Cars drove up and down hooting their horns and waving Brazilian flags. It wasn’t as if English football fans have a particular love for Brazilians – it was just that any foreign team (except probably the French and Argentinians) could be the ersatz “English” team so long as it defeated the Germans.
I fail to see how this promotes international goodwill.
Of course, there are sports fans who can see through the nationalistic puffery and can admire sporting skill for its own sake.
My favourite moment of the three 2014 World Cup matches that I watched? It was during that dire semi-final when the German team methodically humiliated the Brazilian team. Before the match was over, there were close-ups of Brazilian fans staring in stunned astonishment or weeping in anguish. Many Brazilian fans left the stadium long before the match was over, knowing that their team had no hope of recovering.
But, to my delight, there were also shots of Brazilian fans applauding the German players for the sheer skill with which they scored their last two goals.
 I do wish all sports fans were like those ones.

1 comment:

  1. Hear! Hear! In general I support the proposal to design the New Zealand flag but cannot support the notion that the All Blacks' colours of a silver fern on black should be the new flag. Not only can New Zealand's national rugby team not claim to represent the nation, its colours do not represent other sports.