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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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I Love Sport

Ihave absolutely no shame in admitting that I am a sports addict.

I can also honestly say that I am not alone. Far from it. Millions of people head out onto a sports paddock every week. Thousands of sports fans pile into stadiums all over New Zealand (and the world). Very few people are actually unaffected by sport on a weekly basis. I am always baffled by people who say that sport—something that is clearly so influential—is unimportant, a waste of time, or a distraction.

Sport is more than just a game. I see it as a spectacle, and as an event. In a professional environment it has even reached the point that for so many people, it is a job or a lifestyle. And what is so wrong about that?

For me, I’m not sure where the obsession started. As a boy, I always dreamed of playing for Manchester United, but the somewhat sobering experience of playing lower league football with Feilding United AFC brought such dreams to a painful, startling halt.
Somewhere in between then and now, I realised that I love sport.

During last year’s Football World Cup, I barely slept. I watched most games on TV, and I was (like every New Zealander should be) blown away by the achievements of our national side, the All Whites. Football is my own particular passion, and I confess during that month-and-a-half, it became my life. Later this year, the Rugby World Cup will invade many of our lives, and for a few weeks I hope that everyone is as enthralled by it as is expected. It will be the largest sporting spectacle ever to be held here, and it may well stay that way. I love it. I assume thousands of New Zealanders are going to love the spring months for the same reason. And who would want to take that from them?
Some people suggest that sport may be a negative distraction from ‘real life’, the issues of the world. I disagree. Sport can be relief from the clutter of problems all around us. It can be a constant, something to escape from the pressures of the real world. But sport is certainly not trying to distract from these issues. Sporting events can even draw attention to the world around us.

Think of Sunday’s charity cricket match at the Basin Reserve—there, thousands of people turned up to support a very worthy cause, in the relaxed environment of a cricket game. Nobody would call any member of that crowd ignorant of the world around them.

Sport can foster a sense of belonging in a person that few other things can really match. If you’re playing, supporting, or even watching a team, you’re a part of it. For a sportsperson, it doesn’t matter if you’re lining up for Manchester United or Manawatu, you feel a part of something. For a fan, your team winning is something you can be proud of. And even if it’s something you don’t avidly follow, the success of a national side can cultivate some sort of national pride.

Look at the All Blacks—we all know who they are. Some people follow them religiously, others don’t. But when they win, the whole country gets a lift. They are our All Blacks, and our team. This doesn’t have to be on such a national scale though. Provinces, cities, small towns… they all have their sports teams, and they all have their diehard fans.

The thrill of sport is in my mind unrivalled. Sport throws up some incredible moments, especially in recent history. The Olympic Games deal with the absolute peak of human performance. Championships bring together the best athletes and pit them against one another. What’s not to enjoy about sport in the professional era? Much like other areas—music, entertainment, politics, even—sport is about the competition between the best, and—quite frankly—it is riveting.

It’s about time sport is given the credit it deserves. To those people who throw it away as unimportant, I say pick up, or get behind, a sport. Get involved. Support your local team. Give it a real go, and then try to call it a waste of time.

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  1. Michael Oliver says:

    This is my favourite summation of sport. It was written by American sports journalist Will Leitch about Lebron James’ return to Cleveland with the Heat earlier this year.

    Loving sports, by definition, requires a certain suspension of disbelief and logic. We are all pouring our hearts and souls into cheering for men (and women) who do not care about us, who are not like us, who are not the type of people we would ever associate with (or even meet) in real life. We deify them because it is hard to find people to deify in the real world: Sports spans every age group, ethnic group, political persuasion, and all else that serves to divide us, separate us. We cheer for athletes because sports does not matter, not really. We cheer because sports is, ultimately, harmless.

    And we trust that they will at least pretend. We trust that they will recognize the ultimate ludicrousness of this whole enterprise, that these are grown men wearing tank tops, throwing a ball up and around, running on wood, that this all exists because we allow it to exist, that the illusion must be maintained. We trust that they understand how good they have it, how much we give them, against our own self-interest. We trust that they are not laughing at us.”

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