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Thursday / May 30.
HomemitwocentsWarring Words in the Lucky Country

Warring Words in the Lucky Country

In a country where our tribal differences are decided on green fields rather than battlefields, we’d have to consider ourselves lucky.

I got into a contretemps the other day, all right a discussion, a difference of opinion – but not an argument – with a fellow optometrist about the value of sport, in all its uniforms and guises, to Australia as a whole and society in general. The disparity arose as we considered the smorgasbord of summer sport that’s about to be served up and all the terms and descriptions that will make the players and their actions seem more important than anything on earth – in that moment at least.

There’s no doubt that we’ll hear references to “heroism”, “courage”, “raw emotions”, “tragedies”, “no regard for self-preservation”, “selfless acts”, “disasters”… and more.

My professional colleague observed that this language to describe a game is all a bit too much, no matter how important that game might be. Considering we had just concluded our own private sporting contest on the golf course, I couldn’t accuse him of being a non-sportsman or a man of singular academic bent – in fact he had played cricket at a good level back in our UNSW undergraduate days.

Matches are described as “epics”; losers are “desolated”; winners “jubilant” – terms once used to describe battles for life and lands

My argument of and in defence for the commentators was that they would be describing contests… battles: groups of athletes against others of equal number.

And that those games they describe with passion and importance, will be of interest to millions of people. These games are important, I said, not only to those who get a salary for “putting their bodies on the line”, but to all the others who make a living out of these contests, as well as the spectators, the fans (it’s short for fanatics) and the casual observer with no particular vested interest.

Sport is not war, although if we only listen to the words, we could be mistaken for believing it is. Because sport today is the tribal equivalent of battles that have taken place since the dawn of man. Only now you have to part with your hard earned cash to watch it live or take a pay TV subscription.

What’s the Justification?

So are we justified in using emotive terms that have for so long belonged to the ‘real’ battles of life, death and the universe?

Commentators and journalists have no hesitation in calling the players, and they are playing after all, “ultimate warriors”. Matches are described as “epics”; losers are “desolated”; winners “jubilant” – terms once used to describe battles for life and lands rather than goals, points and prize money.

There is no doubt that a sportsperson could get seriously injured out on the playing field. We see all sorts of non-life threatening problems such as torn ligaments, ruptured tendons, broken jaws and the occasional retinal detachment. Now and then a punctured lung, ruptured spleen, bruised kidney or severe concussion can hospitalise a participant. Brain injuries have been fatal but rarely. Long time players in body contact sports have recently been warned of early onset Alzheimers and dementia from all those collisions, especially the ones “with no considertion for their personal safety”.

Rarely someone dies, but they do. Cricket players have died after being struck in the head and the heart. Sportspeople at elite levels compete on the edge of the envelope so it is no surprise when body parts break. It is a surprise when the breakages are terminal. Less people die playing sport than in every day Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia… or any one of a dozen other hot spots around the globe.

Personal Sacrifice

Winning at sport can be about personal sacrifice, about personal injury, about pain, long training sessions, about time away from families, sometimes in foreign countries and sometimes much worse.

Whether you are a winner or run second, the hard work must be done. Hard work in the gym or running miles or working on your skills rather than crawling under barbed wire or ducking live ammo. Doing a tour of duty in Afghanistan with NATO mimics those attributes apart from the fact that your life actually is on the line. YOUR REAL LIFE!!

There are no crowds to cheer you onto the battlefield and rarely a parade to welcome you home with a silver cup under your arm. Commentators scream over helicopters and bomb blasts. There is no respite and no oranges at half time and if the coach is yelling at you it will be about getting your head down and your arse behind some cover so you don’t get shot. In comparison running second in an Olympic event is a luxury not an embarrassment.

My nemesis loves sport, he just doesn’t think players should be eulogised with traits that belong to those who guard our nations and literally put their lives on the line. Ok, he has a point.

And, as we concluded our contretemps, we came to agree that yes, sport is important, it gives joy and sorrow to many, but at a level that can not compare with soldiers losing their lives. Sport is a business, it provides jobs and careers because ultimately fans want to watch or play themselves. Sport is a legitimate part of our society. It may not be in others that cannot afford time or resources to play games.

In the great southern land we are more than lucky that our tribal differences are mostly decided on green fields. It is a luxury we should not take for granted.