Winning is everything!
The recently concluded World Championships in Athletics would perhaps be recorded as the most lacklustre in the past three decades, a reflection of the state of the sport of Athletics in the world today and the immense challenges emanating from relatively weak leadership.
Of course Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Mo Farah delivered but their outstanding performances did little to generate the kind of excitement traditionally associated with these biennial Championships.
The crowds were noticeably absent for the better part of the Championships with the Ukrainians being most evident every day decked off in their traditional blue and yellow. It appeared as though the people knew that this edition of the World Championships would have been lacking in many respects.
Sports enthusiasts around the world would have known that prior to the Championships more than 20 Russian athletes, six Jamaicans and others from different countries including the USA, would have been side-lined after having been caught in the curse of performance-enhancing drugs.
While some athletes claimed injury as the cause of their absence the sport has become so tainted and athletes and coaches so distrusted that few of the aficionados of the sport of Athletics would accept these as legitimate.
It now seems evident that the desire and pressure to win play the single most important part in the approach of the athlete and his/her entourage in respect of involvement in the sport.
For centuries the underlying philosophy has been that participation in sport is the ideal for which we must all strive.
Participation seems to be the core value in the Special Olympics Movement.
Successive generations of leaders of the Olympic Movement have always upheld the principle of participation over and above winning at all cost.
Increasingly, despite the evidence to the contrary, sports leaders continue to extol the virtues attendant to participation in sport. They argue that the plethora of positive values inherent in sport participation far exceed the negatives and call on sportspeople across the world to encourage participation.
Mass participation forms the foundation for sport involvement in the development pathway of most countries and sporting organisations around the world. It is considered the first and most fundamental principle.
The responsiveness of peoples around the world to the clarion call to participate in physical activity as the foundation to greater involvement in sport has gained immense traction as the world seeks to combat the equally increasing cases of deaths from non-communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs/CNCDs).
People want to live long, healthy lives free from what is considered lifestyle diseases.
Sporting organisations join national governmental support programmes aimed at combatting NCDs and CNCDs in order to at once be integrated into the broader healthy lifestyle strategy and identify potential individuals deemed possessive of the potential to practise their respective sports.
Sport for All and Physical Activity for All have become key approaches around the world in an effort to encourage nations to adopt healthy lifestyles. Where these approaches were once adopted only by the most developed nations the recent past has seen increased awareness of their value and eager adoption at the highest level around the entire world. Research has been undertaken everywhere in support of these approaches and their significant outcomes.
Equally, in the respective sports, emphasis in placed on mass participation before beginning the process of introducing specific skill sets to individuals coming forward.
Winning is everything
Who said winning isn’t everything?
What does the loser get?
The foregoing are two very important questions in today’s world of sport.
In every society today emphasis is placed on winning, on being successful. Success and winning are considered one and the same.
Each week one reads in the newspapers this or that individual featured for having attained success in this or that degree. We get to see every individual Vincentian who has succeeded in passing his/her law degree and has been called to the bar. In each case the desire is to let the nation know that he/she has been a winner.
There are no articles featuring the failure of this or that individual in examinations.
In society today, as it has been for centuries, winning is everything.
Even when leaders strive to highlight the importance of participation they are the first to hold aloft the stories of success of those in their charge.
Many sports enthusiasts argue that at any major international Athletics competition the Kenyans and Ethiopians are expected to dominate the distance races and they often do. Closer examination of their performances in distance races, however, reveals a growing tendency for them to place individual glory above that of the team and country.
Many connoisseurs of the sport acknowledge that they could win far more medals if they were prepared to perform as a team in each of their races rather than be selfish.
In several cases at the recently concluded World Championships in Moscow there were four athletes from either Kenya or Ethiopia. The fourth athlete would have been the defending champion.
In almost every case they failed to assist each other in the interest of more medals. Instead they behaved as though they did not know each other and what mattered was who would win individually. They seem to forget that should more of them mount the medal podium the more money would be available to take home to the country as a collective.
The fact is that the bug of winning at all cost takes precedence.
Glorification of the winner
When young Keshorn Walcott won his gold medal at the London Olympics the entire nation of Trinidad and Tobago came to life. There was no end to the platitudes showered on the young man following his successful Javelin achievement.
What mattered was that Walcott was a winner.
It did not matter that he benefitted from ideal throwing conditions at the time. It did not seem important to make comparisons with the records established in previous editions of the Olympics or World Athletics Championships.
What was important was that Walcott, a Trini, had won, giving the country its second Olympic gold medal at these prestigious Games.
In neighbouring Grenada, the same euphoria took place when Kirani James, won the 400m at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011 and then repeated at the Olympic Games in London, England, one year later.
Grenadians, like their Trini counterparts, went into a frenzy of sporting excitement to celebrate the success of the young athlete.
In the case of James and Walcott, the governments got on board, in the process pushing into the background the sporting organisations that laid the foundation for the achievements, and showered immense gifts in addition to the usual kudos.
It was all about glorifying the winner.
The plight of the loser
At the recently concluded World Championships in Athletics Kirani James and Keshorn Walcott both lost badly. They were hardly considered even a shadow of their former selves.
The response to the losses of these two young athletes is what we have come to expect in sport. In both cases they have been completely ignored, in stark contrast to the reception and accolades they received one year ago.
Such is the plight of the loser.
For the next several months, Walcott would walk around his native Trinidad and Tobago as a veritable nonentity. In contrast, Jehue Gordon, winner of the 400m hurdles at this year’s World Championships, would be the new toast of the country.
While some may think this all very unfair the tragedy exists and would be played out as has always been the case.
Indeed, it is not about participation at all. It is all about winning.
It is unfortunate that people do not take the time to appreciate that in the sport of Athletics there are 111 nations competing. To make it beyond the first round in any event is already a significant achievement. But that is never enough for our people. They demand more. Many talk show hosts add insult to injury by failing to get the facts but utilise their media access to denigrate and calumniate. Truth becomes relative and any explanation is pandered off as an unacceptable excuse.
There is no interest in the several other factors such as availability of facilities and access to resources to facilitate better preparation for the respective competitions. These are ignored. As far as many are concerned one must always be on the winning podium or stay at home since you are a loser.
People do not advertise the failure of their children at examinations. They try to avoid discussing this at any level, in contrast to their eager approaches to the media to highlight their children’s success.
Unfortunately, this is what life has become.
The media, anxious to promote the athlete who wins turns around in quick time to vilify that very athlete once he fails to deliver.
We promote the winners and ignore or vilify the losers without any consideration being given to the fundamental principles with which we started the process – participation.
In essence then we lie when we claim that participation is what is important.
We really do intend for winning to be everything in sport.
We eagerly reject losers and readily condemn them to the dung heap of sporting history.
Little consideration is ever given to the tremendous amount of pressure we place on individuals to win, to be successful.
Today many claim that we speak utter foolishness when we attempt to give consideration to the psychology of sport and the impact that pressure has on individual performance and well being.
In the sport of Athletics many expect that Kirani James and Keshorn Walcott would be like Usain Bolt – win all of the time. It is the reason so many felt upset when Justin Gatlin defeated Bolt in one of the Grand Prix events earlier in the year.
The pressure on the individual to repeat his/her success is tremendous and weighs heaving on him/her emotionally.
Above all the once successful athlete is aware of the shabby treatment the same public at home and abroad just as eagerly shown upon the losers and cannot bear the thought of becoming the recipients of such ire. It is perhaps the reason so many athletes feign injury during their events – to avoid the ignominy of defeat.
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