I think you would agree with me that, in this country today, virtually everyone will be aware that in just less than one year, we shall be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games.  We are getting more and more regular daily reminders of the event, and I suspect that this will only continue on an incremental scale, until such time as we finally arrive at the Opening Ceremony, next July.

A Hammer-Thrower in Action 

In my mind, the truly original idea of the Olympic Games was to encourage ‘cutting edge’, but fair competition, between athletes at the peak of their physical fitness – a laudable aim, you may agree – and I think that this ideology succeeded, from the time of their inception in ancient Greece, right up until comparatively recent times.  That is, until other things, other evils – money, betting, speed and strength-enhancing drugs – began to enter into the arena.  And, we have all seen the results – results that detract from the founders’ ideas and culminate in winning at all costs, cheating, etc; such results are very much in the minority so far as the Games are concerned, but they tend to give athletes themselves a bad name, and leave a slightly less than sweet taste in the mouth.  Tainted results!

Anyone for Rugby? 

The way I see things, good, clean and fair competition, can be very beneficial to the individual – and to the team.  It may well enhance the body, the mind and the spirit, urging one on to perform better in the things one undertakes – not just in sport – but in other walks of life as well.  And, I am sure there is one further benefit, simply because God wants us to try our best and excel in whatever we attempt.  It encourages camaraderie between people, friends, rivals, and providing there is always love and respect for the opponent – other competitors – then the great pleasure arises from doing one’s best in an effort to win; on the other hand, should one try hard and lose, then there is honour in that, also.  Certainly, there is no disgrace in losing to the better man, when one has given all in the race to the finish.  We have all seen the members of the winning team – in the Boat Race, on the rugby field and the cricket pitch – join their captains in applauding the efforts of the losing side.  I happen to be convinced that God is with us when we play the game in this way. 

So why do things become corrupted?  Why is it that, all too often, they end in unsavoury, ‘un-gentlemanly’ (to use a sexist term) conduct before, during and after the match?  What is it that underlies the behaviour of men and women, turning what used to be called ‘sport’ into games that no longer qualify for that name, in that they are many times decidedly ‘unsporting’?  There are many factors involved I am sure, but among those that spring to mind are fame, money, power etc., and the pursuit of self-interests, all built on a lack of love and respect for the opponent and a philosophy that says ‘win at all costs’. 

Then, instead of the quite beautiful picture of a winner and loser embracing the game, and each other, in brotherly or sisterly love, we have the ugly pictures of adrenalin-driven aggressive, arm-waving, fist-shaking and faces that say: ‘Woe betide the one that gets in my way’.  Too much money in prizes, too much money being paid to the professionals, betting and gambling, and drug-taking that, for me, takes all the sport out of sport.  Even racism has raised its ugly head.

A Picture of Racism in Football 

We have all seen the ‘high tackle’ that could break a rugby player’s neck, the tackle from behind that takes a footballer legs from under him and has the potential to maim.  We have read about the scandals surrounding snooker and cricket, mainly to do with betting, that reduce a gentleman’s game to one governed by corruptly unfair practices. 

On the other hand, we have all seen children playing the game – tennis, cricket, or football, on the park on a Saturday, or Sunday afternoon, and marvel at the way they play for the love of the game.  And, when one compares the two different sides of sport, I know which side God is on.  If I was to hazard an opinion as to the root cause of the evils that have invaded sport, then I would have to go for money.  Big money results in big-scale unfairness – and even the original perfection of the Olympics is no longer immune from it. It even results in players ‘throwing’ a game – playing below par in order to lose.  Where is the sport in that? 

If I may summarise, competitive sport, played for the love of the game, in fairness and with respect for the other side – for the opponent – in a loving and caring spirit of friendship – can be a wonderful thing, and one that is right up God’s street.  When greed for money and power enter and are allowed to take over from playing sport for the love of the game, then we are no longer playing according to God’s rules and a certain ugliness is often the result.  In the end, it all comes down to love and respect for the other person – in this case the opponent(s) – and this is what true sportsmanship is all about.

(In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website www.stmarysblog.co.uk to read it in its original format.)