The Infatuation with Sports
There have been times I have watched four sporting events in parallel; football on the television, two cricket matches on the laptop side-by-side, and tennis on the tablet. And I do not have photo proof of the event because all the while I was following live scores, commentary and discussions on the mobile.
There is just something about an unscripted, yet full of drama, event with individuals and teams trying their best, giving their best in wanting to execute plans, to beat the odds towards the pursuit of winning which belies the undying love and concentration of the spectators.
But suddenly, sports has taken a backseat. In the midst of a global fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there is nothing to discuss in the world of sports because nothing (of note) is happening; no scores, no matches, no athletes. The world around us as well as far away from us is gripped with uncertain times and sports are on a pause. And rightly so.
But I miss it. There is a pang of guilt attached to the idea of missing something in these times which is non-essential. Yet, I still do.
Watching sports has always been a constant, a crucial part of my life (as my wife will attest to rather begrudgingly).
So, what is it about sports?
Not an act
There is no script in sports.
There have been such unique stories, such mind-boggling incidents, and such unbelievable sequence of events that it would be impossible, maybe foolish, to even make an attempt. At a given moment, a decision, a swirl of the ball, a call can go either way by millimetres - often times the fine line between winning and losing - which tends to fashion raw situations and with it raw reactions and emotions.
And that's a big part of the pull of sports. The players and the athletes live it on the field, and the audiences live it with them. It may not always be exciting to watch, but it is the anticipation of the next act which tugs at your attention and keeps you engrossed. There is a reason that 'fixing' is a dirty word in the world of sports; it robs the stakeholders of the unbridled joy of uncovering the possibilities.
Movies and television and books also provide life, drama, mystery and intrigue, but it is part of a larger act. There is no doubt joy/elation/anger/surprise that I have felt while uncovering scenes of a movie for the first time or the twists of a novel, but with sports, the spectator is in the midst of the story.
The old adage - the truth is stranger than fiction - holds true with sports. How else could one explain this year’s Cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand? I have read a lot of fiction, but no author could have really put that together.
the love for sports
Some sports, on the whole, or specific parts of, do have that inkling of being more truer than others. That's the nature and outcome of societies needs and desires.
While growing up, one of the ‘sport’ I came across was WWE (called WWF, initially). Wrestlers rushing from one end of the ring to another with extreme energy, carrying out their signature moves and bashing heads, and rest of the bodies — it was a sight to watch. Until I came to know that it was all scripted. Rather reluctantly, to be honest, I felt cheated. Suddenly there was no charm to it. Some people may still watch it and love it, but to me, it was all illusion.
The ‘elite’ and the idols
Confirming to the norm of an Indian boy in 90s, my entry into sports started with cricket - watching and playing. It was in the corridors, in the neighbourhoods, on the road and on the television. I was entering my teens when Sachin was demolishing the Australians in what came to be known as the Desert Storm. It was nail-biting yet euphoric, powerful yet sublime. It was also something I shared with my father while growing up - the elation and the heartbreak, but more than that the gratification of sharing those emotions, and those moments.
Also, it was not only cricket I got hooked on to - watching Pete Sampras caressing a volley to Micheal Schumacher blistering at 300 kmph, from Kobe Bryant thundering a dunk to Ronalidinho bending the ball to will (yes, to some extent, Beckham too).
The media obviously plays its part in creating a celebrity out of a sportsperson, but they can only tag on to the performer, the competitor, the player.
The levels they could stretch themselves to, extending the limits, and with it, the imagination. On their stage, which is the field of sport, they are not impersonating someone; they are their true beings. I was engrossed with the elite playmaking of individuals and teams.
Sports has this knack to transform from recreation to a devotion. When I wrote after last year’s Wimbledon, that Federer is an emotion, that was real emotion of watching him play. This was not just a manifestation of aspiration but a veneration of genius.
There is logic, and there is a strategy, and then there is luck
As much as I have learnt from books, I have learnt from watching (and playing) sports. There are always game situations to analyze, logic to be applied and strategy to be made or dismissed.
From reading a situation to reading a person, from possibilities to inhibitions, a lot of information is available on the field. And then decisions have to be made in an instant, which could have disparate outcomes.
But there is a preparation that goes behind in enabling that decision making.
Apart from the 'physical' sports that I had come across during childhood and teens, I was quickly introduced to the world of e-sports during college. A lot of time was spent on playing, and then, a much longer time was spent on discussing, strategizing or sometimes just chastening others. But it was a learning experience - how to spot weaknesses or play around your own strengths, when to go head-on into a situation and when to retreat, and the balance of the short and long term.
Even more inclusive towards the experience is the whole world of fantasy sports. Trying to disseminate information and analyse data to get one-up on friends and colleagues and showcasing knowledge to become 'The Manager' or a pundit.
And yes, luck has a role to play. Big role.
There will always be those who are ‘luckier’ on a given day, in a given moment and there will be anguish for those on the other side. But that is true for life in general. The immediate reaction or emotion maybe has a feeling of drama, but that is the nature of the rawness of the pastime. It is a testimony to sports that they follow so closely to life principles.
Is that all?
Not at all. The energy, the emotion, the spectacle is all an add-on to the unscripted platform of elite playmaking which closely resembles life itself.
There is also a discussion to be had about watching sports at the stadium versus on-screen, but the euphoria and love is true in both cases; just the medium (and yes, the experience) differs.
one of those occasions of me at a stadium ...
And that is why I’m missing sports.
Sure there is a lot of related content available. From highlights to lowlights, lists to fan picks, there’s something new every day. There are news articles on contract or schedule situations, there are videos of top 10s and top 50s. Even content from athletes themselves. Except for ‘live’ sports. There is news of football leagues starting in some European countries, starting with Germany Bundesliga today, which comes as some relief.
And it is not that I have not missed sports earlier. But it’s because I missed it. Sports was still happening. And I would find a way to catch up or even watch part of it.
There is just something about sports.
The list of sports I watch and follow in one form or other are - Cricket (obv.), Football, Tennis, Badminton, Formula 1, Basketball.
Ping me if you want to discuss, or grab a beer to watch some, once it starts again.