Saturday, 21 January 2017

4

This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of sports is?

Whenever I wonder about the purpose of an activity or pursuit, I ask myself two questions:

1) Does the activity lead to personal growth? This growth could be at the level of the body in terms of physical fitness, or at the level of the mind in the sense of attaining more peace, balance and clarity, or at the level of intellect in satisfying one’s curiosities about oneself and the world around and being sharper in being able to distinguish between what’s of lasting value and what might only be a fleeting desire or experience, or in the realm of the arts (or mathematics!) wherein one might be drawn towards art forms such as music, sculpture, painting, poetry, literature, etc., pursue them and thereby grow in beauty (I see some sports as art forms and pursuits and expressions of beauty too, more on this later), or in a financial sense wherein one becomes wealthier monetarily, or emotional growth in terms of being able to relate with other people in a more mature manner as well as handle one’s emotions better, or spirituality that points the way to a compassionate heart.

2) Does the activity lead to a contribution to the society? Some examples are obvious: Doctors, nurses, carpenters, tailors, the cleaning staff in your house and paying one’s taxes and practising a bit of charity and philanthropy. Some contributions require a subtler appreciation: pure mathematics, the peace emanating from a meditator, words of wisdom, gymnastics, figure skating and a beautifully played game of badminton, soccer or basketball.

Sports has much to teach us, much to offer, if we are willing to receive and learn. Physical fitness, the discipline to persist with training even when fatigue comes and our patience and commitment get tested, capability to run and stretch when our goals seem out of reach, to manoeuvre and move deftly around any obstacles that may come our way, to be able to accept and relate with a range of personalities and work together towards realising a common goal, the capacity and maturity to stay equanimous in success as well as failure, the character to stay honest and play clean even if it is defeat one has to face, and then to take these qualities that we nurture and develop on the field into every aspect of our lives and live a life filled with intelligence, hard work and dignity.

If we are to talk about taking up a sport itself as one’s professional pursuit, then I ask you the following question: Are you able to appreciate what I mean above by a beautifully played game?

There are moments when the game lifts above the ordinary, there is complete concentration, the moves are beautiful and talent expresses itself fully, sometimes to the point of genius. In these moments sports takes on the status of an art form as far as I am concerned. To create these moments requires years of training and hard work and the honing of one’s talent. And all of it is worthwhile if the goal stays the creation of those beautiful moments.

You descend to the level of “Win at all costs” and all of the above is lost.

And isn’t that what is happening now? Not just in many a sport but also in the way many people are being nudged to live their lives. You reflect: Is it proving to be a good thing for all of us? Just look around you. Look at the values with which people play and live.

Are we a happy society overall? Is there contentment, trust, friendship, humanity in the atmosphere or are we getting split into fragments and starting to live like isolated entities that just view each other as things to use and take advantage of?

Look at what is happening on the global scale. There always seems to be a simmering tension just beneath the surface, often erupting in volcanic acts of aggression and violence. Why are things this way? Why are we not embracing each other, accepting all the diversities, placing humanity above all other considerations and living a happy, fulfilled and peaceful global life?

The macrocosm is but a reflection of the microcosm. As is the individual, so will be the society.

Maybe we need to raise a whole new generation of sportsmen and sportswomen who have learnt to play in the right spirit. Maybe they will, in turn, teach us how to live in the right spirit.

It was with these thoughts floating through my mind that I returned with Dan and others to the department. I dropped in to the little kitchenette down the hall from my desk where we brewed coffee on a cost sharing basis and poured myself a cup. I still had an afternoon full of programming and code debugging ahead of me and I settled into it with as much concentration as I could muster. There was much I needed to complete before the weekend came.

[I end this post with the following remark: If we are to make sports a sustainable profession in India, we need to sort out the economics of it at the district and state levels and ensure that players get paid well enough to stick to their sports. And we, the audience, need to appreciate their efforts and encourage them.]

[I also bring into question the ugliness of sports in which physical violence is inbuilt, whether it be boxing (a perfectly legitimate form of self defence but an atrocious definition of sport), or some aspects of American football, and, yes, cricket. I believe we know enough about different materials and the subject of aerodynamics to be able to design a new cricket ball that can bounce, seam, spin and swing, and yet be safe. The cricket ball presently in use is like a solid rock traveling towards a batter or fielder at high speeds. There have been not only injuries, but also deaths, due to a batter or fielder being hit by the present day cricket ball. This is meaningless and needs to stop. No one needs to die playing a sport. Sport is for fun and human development and needs to stay that way. Then there are intentional tackles in soccer, sometimes with a willingness to pick up a card as a strategic manoeuvre (!). This doesn't find favour with me either, no matter how correctly grammared the justifications might be. Bullshit is bullshit, never mind the perfume one tries to spray over it to mask the stink.]

(to be continued… Link)

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