The Inevitable Summer of Sport Reflections

I pity those who find no pleasure in watching sport as this summer sees a bumper opportunity to gorge on football and Olympic events via the big goggly box in the corner of your living room/bedroom/lavatory (?!).The European Football Championships have already begun, offering a veritable feast of 90 minute dramas which to the outsider look like twenty-two grown men in shorts kicking a round piece of plastic around and complaining to the referee if anybody so much as breathes near their hair. But to those of us in the know, football really is the beautiful game. Like so many sports it offers the possibility of giant-killings as unfancied underdogs overcome superior teams seemingly by sheer Nietzschean force of will. It throws up heroes and villains, sometimes embodied in the figure of a single player, so swiftly and so readily is it possible to transform from the adored to the abhorred on the field of play. And of course it delivers triumphal winners and heart-broken losers.Individuals within football provide an array of theatrical archetypes Shakespeare himself would recognise:

Machiavellian devil thwarting the best efforts of the heroes and tilting every outcome? Pretty much every referee would be well cast as Iago, the scourge of Othello.

Those who would make more sense in post-match interviews if they had an asses head? Most of the England team sound rather like Bottoms to me.

Romeo and Juliet? You’ve got to wonder at the personal relationships of some of the players when all that hugging and kissing goes on after a goal is scored.

And as for the managers, as they froth and bubble on the touchlines they remind us that at the end of the day we are all ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

So much for football. What of the forthcoming Olympics? I’m not normally one who follows the fortunes of athletes but every four years I find myself drawn into their world and their dreams as they compete amongst the very cream of their profession. The Olympics provide so many iconic images, from the delightful irony of black sprinter Jesse Owens debunking Hitler’s notions of Aryan superiority at the Berlin games in 1936 to the mile wide smile of Kelly Holmes as she won double gold in Athens, 2004.Unlike the footballers, most Olympians compete on their own, fighting not only their opponents on the track or in the field but also themselves. Olympic victories are often achieved against a backdrop of self-doubt, or despite career-threatening injury. Many is the gold medallist who has triumphed over adversity, silenced their own inner critic, and pushed themselves to the very limit of their abilities. Perhaps that is why so many viewers are drawn to the Olympics although they are normally left cold by sport on the television. The achievements of the Olympians can be an inspiration to us all. We may not dream of running faster than anybody else has ever run, or of throwing a projectile further than seems humanly possible, but we do all dream. No matter that our ambitions may be more humble, nothing is ever achieved without first setting our sights on our target or without finding inspiration in the achievements of others. If only they gave out gold medals for the small but entirely meaningful acts of endeavour and courage many of us accomplish on a daily basis.

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