The importance of working together in sport
It is often said that the politics of sport is infinitely more complicated and at time downright nastier than national politics.
One would expect that given the numerous positive values attendant to participation in sport there would be a greater tendency towards harmony. This is not the case. Instead, we often find great difficulty in getting people to work together for a common end.
Benefits of sport
We have always been told of the numerous benefits that are available through participation in sport.
Sport has been promoted as an important and effect means of bringing people together. This means that people from different backgrounds and with different experiences come together in the interest of ensuring that they can achieve the stated objectives of participation in sport.
We have also been told that sport promotes camaraderie amongst those involved. It is expected that by participating in sport people build strong bonds of friendship that often last a lifetime.
There is also the argument that sport facilitates peace and harmony. This argument suggests that people involved in sport see things differently from others in their respective societies. They tend to enjoy the joy of effort involved in striving after excellence in sport, appreciate what it takes to be successful and encourage rather than destroy.
The Olympic Movement is replete with stories of individual athletes displaying remarkable behaviour in circumstances where tensions were expected. Such was the case of Jesse Owens and his German challenger, Luz Long, in the long jump at the Olympics in Berlin, 1936.
There are many interpretations of precisely what transpired between Long and Owens at the long jump competition and people around the world have chosen to take on board the version that best suits them. Whatever about the different stories, Long, a white man in Hitler’s white supremacist Germany, established a friendship with the black athlete, Jesse Owens, a remarkable American athlete.
The arm in arm victory celebration in front of 110,000 Germans in 1936 was itself an achievement that somehow may be interpreted as defiance of the underlying philosophy of Hitler himself.
That the two men remains friends for life is all the more remarkable and testimony to the immense benefits that sport participation can bring.
Indeed the two men corresponded until Long dies in the war in 1943. In his final letter to Owens Long wrote…Someday find my son … tell him about how things can be between men on this Earth.
Tendencies in sport
Despite the many claims of positive values associated with participation in sport we have had many challenges.
Fairplay has been promoted for several years by different sporting organisations. FIFA has taken a lead in the way in which it seeks to promote fairplay in football.
The reality is that even in football, there is a tendency to allow the desire to win at all cost to take ultimate control over the way in which sport is practised.
Even as footballers o onto the competition arena led by children with the fair play flag; even as the players and officials stand in respect of the playing of the Fair Play Anthem, what takes on the field immediately thereafter often defies logic.
Coaches often seek to encourage players to literally injure their opponents so their respective teams stand a better chance of winning.
Ice Hockey seems to be a sport that thrives on spilling blood during games. Some players have come to the point, albeit after retirement, of confessing of their roles in destroying their opponents to facilitate their teams’ victories during the competitive season. Patrons often appear sad when a hockey game is played and there is no violence, so much have they been taken in by the particular nuances of the culture of that particular sport.
The scourge of performance enhancing substances and methods to achieve success in sport is everywhere and involving athletes, coaches and professional doctors.
In some instances analysts seem to suggest that the use of performance enhancing substances and methods have the implicit support of the sport leaders at the local, regional and international levels.
The Dubin Inquiry following the infamous incident involving Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 revealed that college students were still prepared to use drugs to assist them in building their bodies to look good for their peers, even after being told of the deleterious consequences of drug use.
What motivated Marion Jones to take to drugs?
What was the motivation for Lance Armstrong?
In almost all cases the motive is the same – to win at all cost.
The desire to win and receive international acclaim has been the single most important factor driving athletes to do all in their power to avoid playing by the rules. They prefer unfair competition.
For many years coaches have failed to get the recognition they deserve. Even today, for all of the work undertaken by coaches in the production of top athletes the agents/managers are the ones who receive the lion’s share of the spoils emerging from the successes of the athletes.
In fact there is now a concerted effort being made by coaches to increase their share of the spoils to approach what is given to agents/managers.
In small societies like ours the issue is less about the cash receipts that can come from an athlete’s success and more on the accolades that coaches get from claiming ownership of the achievements of athletes in their charge.
It is therefore very common to find coaches at variance with each other because of bragging rights to the achievements of athletes.
Rather than attend to the overall development of athletes more generally, in small societies like ours the coaches tend to haggle over who was responsible for which athlete’s success.
It is amazing that such an approach is taken in small societies where success remains more at the local level than anywhere else. One is therefore left wondering hat it is that the coaches are so anxious to boast about.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines several attempts have been made in the past to establish Coaches Associations across the different sporting disciplines with absolutely no success.
One would have imagined that coaches here would have been anxious to share ideas about their profession. Unfortunately this is not the case. Instead there is a relatively high level of intolerance for the ideas of others at the level of coaches in the different sports played in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some coaches seem to feel justified in holding themselves aloft of their peers. It gets much worse when coaches begin to bad mouth fellow coaches with athletes. There is a certain lack of ethics in such an approach and this bodes no good for the development of sort in the country. This also serves to break down the potential bonds of friendship and camaraderie that should otherwise develop amongst athletes in the country.
One of the worst offences in sport is the rumour mongering that takes place at almost every level. Many argue that this is a phenomenon of small societies but that is not necessarily the case, nor ought it to be so.
It is unfortunate that rather than seek to build it seems so easy to destroy.
Sportspeople seem particularly prone to gossip and are only too eager to destroy the reputations of others. Rather than challenge the message they are quick to slay the messenger.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a relatively small country and there is absolutely no reason why our sportspeople cannot work together. Indeed, if harmonisation of effort is given pride of place we would achieve significantly more by way of success in sport than is currently the case.
It is imperative that our administrators and coaches recognise that they are involved in a profession that requires continuous study to upgrade themselves and take their rightful place.
All involved in sport need to resist the temptation to be self-righteous and instead seek to establish meaning inks with each other since ultimately, it is l for the betterment of St Vincent and the Grenadines that we are all working.