The world is a largely depressing place. With humans plagued by a chronic awareness of the futility of their own existence, it is a difficult battle to find purpose and drive in an increasingly broken world. As we roll into autumn and a new academic year, bickering from Hilary and Trump reverberates menacingly from across the pond. Over a summer which was largely characterised by the lies and cries of that election campaign, the commotion of Brexit and the continued crisis in Syria, people could be forgiven for wanting to hide away from the front pages and the reality that lies in front of us.
In many ways what sport provides is an escape to an alternate reality; a crucial comfort and vital distraction from life. The importance of sport in this sense was first brought to my attention when hearing how the 3pm football scores provided weekly warmth to a friend, who found alleviation in the very fact that the football was still going on, asit had for the preceding century and a half, enjoying the comforting knowledge that the world, therefore, still must be spinning.
An even starker example of this powerful role that sport plays was beautifully captured the night of the Paris attacks by Robert Wilson, a man caught up in the attacks, who found solace in watching Australian test cricket while under threat in the 10th arrondissement; “It was something about the Australian sunlight, its promiscuous optimism. And the sheer, pointless beauty of cricket. It felt like life, being thoroughly and joyously lived. I’m depending on it tonight. It’s what we do when you feel hemmed in by life’s opposite.”
In our alternate sporting reality villains still exist, but villains that we love to hate, not ones that reign terror over societies, cultures and nations as has happened in the real world throughout the course of time. Hence, when the evils of the real world do spill over into the parallel sporting universe, take for example the Russian doping scandal or the current football manager bribery allegations, it is met with such widespread outpouring of negative uproar.
The key to the beauty of sport in this sense is its triviality. We are always trying to simplify, quantify and break down life, and in many ways the highly structured winner or loser nature of sports satisfies our basic primal instincts. This triviality and simplicity also creates a package that can be vigorously enjoyed on various levels by all members of society irrespective of age, gender, race or education. All sports are there to be enjoyed, it is just an unwillingness to understand the rules and principles of the game before them which prevents individuals from deriving any viewing pleasure from them. It’s for this reason most people’s favourite sport to watch is also the sport they are most talented at; a greater appreciation of the game and its subtleties heightens what can be taken from the viewing experience.
Sport is not only to be enjoyed in the present, but also helps you remember the past. Nothing runs the continuum of existence the way sport does. Music, drama and art is often appreciated for being timeless, transcending eras and generations; whereas a sporting event simply takes place during one moment of history, and then from that moment forward is bound to it, with memories of the two constantly evoking and fortifying one and other. The past is largely all we have in life, previous actions turned memories which define the present. Memory is a complex phenomenon, and not one as accurate as you may think. Large swathes of life pass by, now impossible to recollect, other parts largely distorted by the passing of time and confused similar experience. Recalling and revisiting previous sporting moments can help unlock involuntary memories of the past; doing semi-naked laps of the garden as Leeds beat Arsenal to secure survival in May 2003, tasting my first glass of champagne as England won the Rugby World Cup over breakfast at my grandparents a few months later or sobbing uncontrollably to my mum when the Athens Olympics finished in 2004 all bring back so much more and are so crucial in preserving precious remembrance of my primitive years.
That’s why sport matters to me. Not only can it be beautifully enjoyed in the present, but it helps you remember when you need to remember and helps you forget when you need to forget.
Enjoy the column, J.