Men Dear Men Chapter 12

Aims And Values

There is nothing like sport to bring out the best and the worst in us. Whether we are better or worse for the time we devote to sport depends more on our attitude to it and our understanding of its true purpose than upon any skill we may possess in particular games. We are not concerned here with the capacity of sport to develop us physically; provided we take the right sort of exercise in the right amount we can expect to enjoy that benefit as a matter of course. Nor need we delay on the purely recreative value of sport. After hours of inactivity or mental exertion we naturally turn to some sort of physical sport to restore the balance and refresh us for further effort. In such circumstances the relaxing and recreating effect of a game of tennis or football is usually felt, no matter how badly we play. Some are content to take their recreation merely by watching others at play.

Although physical development and mental relaxation may constitute the beginning and end of sport for many persons, there is in reality much more to be said for sport than that, at least for those forms that involve association with others. Sport has a social and moral value, not to be overlooked, and in these respects it can be a positive factor in the development of personality. Perhaps there has been a tendency at times to exaggerate these claims, but nevertheless it is not difficult to think of persons in our own experience, perhaps even boys still at school, whom sport has helped to make honourable and socially adaptable, while at the same time rounding off their personalities.

Once we consider sport as a social activity, questions of courtesy and etiquette must arise. Certainly the sports-field is as good a place as any to pick out the true gentleman. For many years it has been the custom in England to play an annual cricket match between two teams, calling themselves respectively the Gentlemen and the Players. In the sense in which we are using the word here, all those who take part in competitive sport ought to be gentlemen and not merely players. Each branch of sport has not only its book of rules but also its code of etiquette. To ignore the code is to show bad sportsmanship or bad manners or perhaps both.

Playing games in order to keep healthy or simply for the sake of the natural pleasure we derive from them are good reasons in themselves. So, too, is the social advantage to be gained by contact with others through sport. But we ought to be able to aim still higher and see even in such a trivial thing as a football match a means of pleasing God, whose divine plan in our regard is revealed in all the actions of our daily lives. Everything done with this motive can be made to contribute to the one great purpose of our lives. We can, therefore, spiritualise our sport, and there is no reason why we should not do so. It is hardly to be expected that a bruised and muddied forward, as he plunges into the not very exalted world of a scrum, will be conscious of these lofty motives, but if he has at least a right understanding of the place and purpose of sport he will not be likely to allow a game to become an occasion of dishonesty, bad manners, bad temper or physical assault.

Pope Pius XII drew attention to the rightful place of sport when he said: “Sport and gymnastics should not command and dominate, but should serve and help. . . They are aids and helpful accessories, but they are not indispensable to life and they are not of absolute value.” If we always kept this principle in mind, we would not make the mistake of seeing sport as an end in itself, giving to it too much time and sacrificing for it more important duties. We will not be unduly concerned about the result of a match. Victory is pleasant, but defeat is not usually a disgrace. The reputation of the school or country is not likely to suffer in the minds of sensible people even if we lose every match of the season.

The Competitive Spirit

A certain amount of the competitive element is desirable in sport. It calls forth worthy effort and team-spirit; it inspires a laudable pride of achievement. But when it runs to extremes, as it can so easily do, much more harm than good is done. You rightly regard it as an honour to be chosen to represent your club or country; you owe it to your team and to your club to go into every match determined to do your best and to win if possible. However, that is a very different thing from the win-at-all-costs attitude that debases sport and poisons the friendly relations that should exist between clubs and countries.

The harm done is all the greater when the competitive spirit leads to fierce partisanship among spectators. No mere game is worth the bitterness and recrimination that can occur on or off the field. Victory is too costly at such a price.

Team Spirit

Team games offer a splendid opportunity of getting to know other people and learning to co-operate with them. Most men require little urging to avail of the opportunity. The one who thinks he has no aptitude or liking for sport and takes part only when he is forced to do so, is losing valuable experience for which he may find no compensation in other aspects of life.

Teamwork demands a spirit of unselfishness. The individual must be prepared to put aside his own ideas and inclinations for the good of the team. Many a team has been the victim of its “stars” – the flashy, prancing centre who wants to score all the points or the average-conscious batsman who steals the strike, regardless of the captain and the clock. As a member of the team you must respect the authority of your captain and carry out his orders, no matter what your ideas of the situation may be.

Sportsmanship

Every man likes to be known as “a good sport”, a phrase which has passed into currency far beyond the boundaries of the sports arena. It implies fair play, respect for the rules, for the referee and for one’s opponents, and the will to win, without grumbling in defeat or gloating in victory.

It is dishonest and unsporting to attempt to evade or deceive the referee in order to gain an advantage over one’s opponent. Such tactics are no less wrong because they go undetected by the referee. The umpire is the final arbiter in any sporting contest. No doubt half the crowd at any football match will assure you that the umpire, notwithstanding his rank and symbols of office, is still a weak, fallible human being (although they would probably put it in different words). It is unsportsmanlike for players or spectators to question the decisions of the umpire. Mistakes will occur, but this sort of criticism is not likely to remedy things. No umpire worthy of his whistle is likely to change his decision in response to gratuitous advice from the field or the grandstand.

Don’t crow about your victories and don’t make excuses for your defeats. You might as well admit that the superiority of your opponent is a truer explanation of your defeat than the hole in the pitch, the broken racquet-string, the uncertainties of the starter’s gun, or the incompetence of the umpire. Such excuses might well be taken as a not very subtle attempt to divert attention from your own poor play.

The word “gamesmanship” has been coined to describe the actions of a player who tries to gain an unfair advantage over his opponent, but without obviously violating the rules. Thus the tennis player who stalls just as his opponent is about to serve to him is guilty of gamesmanship; so too is the golfer who destroys his opponent’s concentration by moving just as he is making a critical putt. This form of bad sportsmanship is worse than a deliberate breach of the rules of the game, as it is generally impossible for the victim to invoke the rules or the referee in his defence.

Some of the worst offenders against good manners and sportsmanship are to be found on the other side of the pickets, among the spectators. Booing, counting-out and slow-clapping are ugly forms of bad sportsmanship. They are objectionable anywhere. Support your side with all the moral and vocal power you can muster, but be fair and avoid anything that savours of coarseness. Be prepared to recognise good play by your opponents. Sincere applause for achievement on either side does not call for any special heroism from the spectators.