Sport and national pride

In the publicity for the 1975 cult classic, Rollerball, the catchphrase used to attract audiences was the sonorous and pseudo-prophetic: “In the not too distant future, wars will no longer exist, but there will be Rollerball” – an obvious allusion to the conceit that sport is war by other means or, as George Orwell famously wrote, “war minus the shooting.” Indeed, during the Cold War, the USA and the USSR were notorious for turning sporting arenas into virtual battlegrounds, as they vied to demonstrate the superiority of their respective systems.

The twist in Rollerball was that in the fictional future, the nation state as we know it no longer exists. Countries are replaced instead by an Orwellian global corporate state, with corporations sponsoring city-based teams to engage in often mortal contests, in order to boost their prestige and ultimately reflect their power over society and the individual. Not much different from the deadly gladiator games of ancient Rome actually.

Thankfully, sport nowadays, while it can be intensely competitive, is rarely regarded as a matter of life and death, notwithstanding the celebrated view of Bill Shankly, the late, great Liverpool manager, that football was “much, much more important than that.” In fact, team sport today owes much to Victorian efforts to impose order and notions of fair play on ball games and other athletic pastimes. Football, rugby, hockey, boxing and track and field, for example, all benefited from the imperial passion for rules and a more disciplined society. And with the spread and apogee of the British Empire in the 19th century, sporting prowess was also naturally viewed as a reflection of dominance and ‘civilization.’ Ever since, for better or worse, there has been no separating notions of sporting success and national prestige.

Consider Spain’s summer of sporting success, encapsulated in one giddy month, July. On July 4, Rafael Nadal won his second Wimbledon crown, after having won the French Open in June, also for the second time. On the 11th, Spain held the World Cup aloft, thanks to Andrés Iniesta’s late goal, which brought the Spanish Queen joyously to her feet. Then on a sensational Sunday, the 25th, Alberto Contador won the greatest cycle race in the world, the Tour de France, for the third time; Fernando Alonso won the German Formula One Grand Prix, albeit in controversial circumstances; and Jorge Lorenzo won the US motorcycling Grand Prix to tighten his grip on the 2010 MotoGP championship. Spanish sports fans have probably never had it so good.

With the country mired in recession and people losing jobs, Spain’s triumphs have come at the right time, as press reports indicate that national pride seems to have gone a far way towards alleviating the economic gloom and doom. Indeed, there are studies purporting to show that national sporting success can stimulate economic growth through engendering greater confidence about the future. Undeniably, sporting glory can lift the human spirit in a way that few other things can.

Just think back to Jamaica’s fantastic performance at the Beijing Olympics two years ago, when not only Jamaica sang and danced for joy but the whole Caribbean united in celebration of Usain Bolt and company, in a way not seen since the halcyon days of West Indies cricket. And without dwelling on the woes currently bedevilling our cricket, many of us can remember how our champions took on the world and won; how they whipped our former colonial masters in particular, giving us self-belief and the conviction that our small, newly independent countries and we ourselves could hold our own on the global stage.

Now let us reflect on the pride and elation we Guyanese are feeling because of our cricketers winning this year’s regional T20 tournament. As they are preparing for the Airtel Champions League in South Africa, hopes are high in Guyana that they can put on a good show. Why, we even dare to dream, despite the well-known shortcomings of cricket governance in Guyana and the region and the militancy of the West Indies Players’ Association, that our boys will do us prouder still and at least equal Trinidad and Tobago’s feat in reaching the final last year, if not win the competition outright.

A letter writer yesterday suggested that the Guyana T20 team should have a name. This is not a bad idea at all. Perhaps the Guyana Cricket Board could organize an online poll to choose an appropriate name. The authorities should do everything possible to motivate the players and rally the nation behind them.

Victory in sport is most often the reward of a combination of investment in talent and dedication to one’s craft. Discipline, training, mental attitude, caring and efficient management, and proper facilities are essential elements for success. Sport has always been critical to building individual self-esteem. Let us not underestimate how much sporting success can mean to national pride, especially in a country such as ours, prone to divisiveness and squabbling.

As long as any team or individual in national colours performs to the best of their ability, whenever our sporting representatives have the Golden Arrowhead flying high, we should take heart. The values they demonstrate are the best representation of nationhood and their performances and success are incalculable contributions to nation-building and national well-being.

More in Editorial

default placeholder

Jamaica-Trinidad & Tobago relations

It might have been surprising to observers that so soon after the 37th Caricom Heads of Government meeting from the 4th to 6th of this month, the Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley should have chosen to make an official visit to Jamaica to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries.

default placeholder

Same old, same old

Sunday’s comprehensive defeat suffered by the West Indies cricket team in the first of four Test matches against a clearly superior Indian outfit provided a poignant reminder that the road back from ignominy to international cricketing respectability in Test cricket will be long and difficult, and that it may well take a generation or more ‒ if indeed those days do return even that quickly.

default placeholder

Disruption of Region Five council

It’s now been over six months since the meetings of the Region Five council have been disrupted by APNU+AFC councillors over a perceived slight to President Granger by the Chairman of the Region, Vickchand Ramphal who happens to represent the opposition PPP/C.

default placeholder

The city authorities

The Mayor & City Council seems to lurch from one embarrassment to the next. First it was the eviction of the street vendors without having detailed arrangements in place for their relocation; then it was the scandal of the proposed parking meters; and now it’s the court humiliation in relation to the container tax recently announced by the municipality.

default placeholder

Self-evident truths

Narratives of America’s decline have become so entrenched in the US media that is possible to forget that the same news outlets that created, and continue to foster, such pessimism are responsible for giving Donald Trump an estimated US$2 billion in free media coverage.

default placeholder

Student loan defaulters

When the government released the findings of a forensic audit of the University of Guyana Student Loan Agency last month, there was an expectation in some quarters that an announcement would follow of a set of comprehensive steps to address this national problem.


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: