‘I think they’re hostile at the best of times.’
Life and death take precedence over everything. Even sport. The heavens opened and the floods around the country showed how fleeting our life can be. The earth opened up in Christchurch and we were reminded how precious life is. All these natural tragedies also showed the resilience and heroism of man. We learn to accept what we cannot control.
Sport may not be a matter of life and death but it engenders the same emotions. I am sure we like to lead our lives in the same manner as we play or view our sport. In the heat of the moment, players and fans alike, cross society’s notion of fair play.
Sport cannot be separated from life. It is a reflection of our values, our social fabric and ultimately our worth as human beings. Just like art and business and politics. Sport can be uplifting, it can demean, it can trivialize and it can educate.
We are all capable of compassion and love. It should come as no surprise that we are capable, also, of hate and bigotry. We are also exceedingly hypocritical when it comes to sport.
Why should elite athletes sniffing cocaine be any different from a judge in silks with more white powder on his nose than on his wig? They are both supposed to be role models, are they not?
The Allstars Indigenous game so soon after the floods showed that sport can ease the suffering caused by a vengeful nature. It showed it could influence a change in perceptions that had been perpetuated by small men with myopic vision. This we can control.
The deliberate beamer or the calculated tackle that seeks to maim. Players holding their ground when they know they are out.
Tennis and cricket players used to be able to berate umpires before Hawkeye. Now they challenge more in hope than in knowledge. A cynical challenge is exposed for what it is. All this we can control.
Dan Vettori has stated that he wants to win tomorrow’s match for the people of New Zealand. Noble sentiment but is it going to make the Blackcaps unbeatable?
New Zealand is without a physio and a trainer and Ponting has graciously promised New Zealand full use of his back-room boys.
Australia will be compassionate but I do not think they will “let” New Zealand win. I do not think Southee will be bowling half-trackers to Watson because of the floods in Ipswich.
He would be aiming to hit Ponting’s little pinky.
Scott Styris will want to head-butt anyone wearing the green and gold. The umpires will not be charitable towards New Zealand. And this is as it should be.
Life is neither fair nor unfair. Sport is very much like this. We would all like to remember Muhammad Ali as the indomitable warrior in the jungle. His thrilla in Manila.
But we have to accept that now he cannot control his hands. This is out of his control.
We eulogise our sportsmen because they rise above personal loss. Jeev Milkha Singh, days after his wife’s miscarriage, chose to play a golf tournament. His wife and father encouraged him.
Such is the therapeutic power of sports. It is an elixir that Roche would love to patent! This they cannot control.
September 11 2001 brought New York to a shuddering halt. 11 days later on September 22nd the city was reenergized.
Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York, was at Shea Stadium and gave the thumbs up to a city and nation still grieving. Mike Piazza’s stratospheric homer brought a cheer so loud it momentarily banished the morbidity of the September 11 madness.
When WW2 broke out, President Roosevelt recommended baseball continue to be played. The Munich massacre, Kennedy’s assasination; nothing diminished the power of sport to heal and uplift.
Soon after the Mumbai terrorist attack, Kevin Pietersen led England back to India. I spoke with Kevin Pietersen two months ago and asked him if he had any reservations about going back to India so soon after the tragedy in Mumbai.
He said: “Not even for a moment”. Indian fans will remember the courage of the England team long after they have forgotten the tragedy of Mumbai.
In the end life must go on. How we chose to live it is up to us. This we can control.
Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile to a world that seems uncaring. But it is worth remembering that tragedy does not discriminate. It is also worth remembering that when one loses a loved one it is better to celebrate their life than to mourn it.
May the best team win tomorrow.