Watching the spectacle that is the football world cup, it’s hard not to get swayed by the passion and emotion of the fans, and the players themselves, as they seek to achieve glory by winning the cup. It bears testimony to the fact that sport is much more than winning or losing, it’s something that unites, transcending boundaries of caste, colour, race and creed. Sport has a unique and incredible ability to ignite passion, and steps over regional, linguistic, social and demographic boundaries.
We have seen in the past how sport has had the power to mend apparently insurmountable divisions in society. Consider South Africa itself, not too long ago..it was mired in apartheid and was on the verge of being a failed state until Nelson Mandela resolved to end it. And here again sport played a crucial role of unification, The 1995 Rugby world cup, subject of the film Invictus, was the first tournament played after South Africa was expelled from all international competitions. The world cup squad..consisting of just one black player, was initially booed by the local black population, until they started winning that is…South Africa since then has come full circle..now their Football team has just one white player!!
Or why go so far, look at our own country, I don’t think that apart from cricket, there’s a single aspect that unites our diverse nation. Did I hear Bollywood..no, not at all..its shunned in the south especially in Tamil Nadu..where there’s a visible dislike for all things north Indian. Cricket then, is the sole uniting factor. Be it Guwahati, Delhi, Dharamshala, Chennai, Mohali or Trivandrum, you can see fans openly declaring their loyalty and love for the men in Blue, sometimes bordering on the fanatical.
Needless to say, a team has to win to get support, or at least show that they are trying their best to gain legitimacy and loyalty. Also, this holds true mostly for team sports. Individual sports, like tennis, billiards, chess etc..don’t evoke that kind of emotion as a team sport.
Sport, on another dimension, allows small nations to punch far above their weight in the global arena. It allows a level playing field for large and small nations alike. A sport field is perhaps the only place where underdogs overwhelm large nations on a regular basis.
We saw this in the T-20 world cup last year where Pakistan, under attack for harbouring terrorists and shunned by the entire world, sprang a surprise by winning the world cup, winning respect from friends and foes alike.
Sport on a very basic level, extols the virtues of human beings..strength, intelligence, speed, stamina, mutual respect, team play, discipline and fair play, Citius, altius, fortius is what athletes strive for. This along with the unifying power of sport, makes it indispensable as a form of entertainment. It attracts immense audiences, and has great economic influence, power and reach into countries and communities.
Sports of course do not exist in a vacuum. Sports are a part of society. Accordingly, it mirror aspects of society and serve as powerful agents of social change.