BBC Radio 4
SPORTS is like maths, you either grow up to love it or you hate it so much that it evokes the same feeling as long division. I grew up loving sport and still start reading the newspaper from the back.
In recent years sports is often on the front pages and while some of this is a reflection of our endless obsession with celebrity, it also recognises that sport touches many more aspects of our lives beyond the events on the field of play.
I had most vivid evidence of this during this year’s World Cup in Germany. I had left England awash with flags of St. George. Yet even as Germany took the field against Costa Rica in the opening World Cup match there was no outward show of emotion. On my way to the Munich stadium I saw more Costa Rican flags than German ones. The Germans seemed ashamed of their flag as if displaying it would recreate the old horrors that their nationalism had inflicted on others.
The second match against Poland evoked all sorts of memories both for Germans and the rest of the world. I watched it with German supporters in a bar in Berlin. I have experienced more exuberant church services, there was certainly none of the fervour that England supporters produce. But then in stoppage time the black German player Odonkor, who had come on as substitute, crossed a ball leading to the German goal and suddenly the Germans discovered themselves, both on and off the field. On it the German team, widely written off as no-hopers, began to believe they could win. Off it the Germans discovered that to display their flag and broadcast their pride in their nation did not mean threatening others.
By the end of the first week the Germans had started a World Cup new fashion. On match days in the middle of German cities hundreds of thousands watched matches on big screens displaying their rival flags, drinking, celebrating or commiserating but never fighting.
It made me think there was much merit in what Albert Camus had said, “All I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”
Sport at its best can make you feel part of a wider community. Watching your team or a favourite sportsman or woman perform can suddenly make you realise that you are part of a sporting family that you did not know existed. It is a wonderfully exhilarating feeling. Our ancestors had myths and magic; sports is the modern equivalent and brings people together in ways nothing else can.
© Mihir Bose