We may be missing the point.
That bummer of a lead is probably the result of watching too many sporting events on TV. In the last month I’ve gone from two weeks of French Open tennis straight into a combination of European Cup football and Wimbledon tennis.
Anyway, much of what I’ve seen on the courts and pitches has been fantastic but the fans and the commentators have combined to make me feel like I’ve got a burr up my arse… irritated, that is.
In the coverage of early round tennis matches the commentators assumed most viewers would be backing the favourite, be it Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or whomever, and, unfortunately, the spectators in the stands lived up to that assumption even when players 99 places lower in the world rankings were playing their hearts out against them. I mean even when the unheard of number 100, Lukas Rosol, was outplaying and ultimately beating number two Nadal, the crowd was pulling for the Spanish billionaire.
What ever happened to backing the underdog? Sure, the favourites win more often but so what? That’s just what they are supposed to do. It seems a bit like what happened at the end of the Roman Empire when the masses enjoyed rooting for the lions against the Christians in the Coliseum.
Yeah, I know, way over the top; and the argument can be made that people love to watch sustained excellence like what Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Federer give us, but that’s exactly why the European Cup got to me.
There were three outstanding teams in the competition; Italy, Germany and the eventual winners, Spain. Italy were criticized for being too defensive when they lost the final to Spain, Germany were criticized for not being defensive enough when they lost to Italy in their semi final and Spain were criticized for being boring because they often play without a striker on the pitch.
Negative, negative, negative; which, of course, is exactly what I’ve been up to now in this column.
So I’d like to turn things around now and mention that I’ve also seen many very positive things on the playing fields and courts to offset the effect of the commentators and spectators, and interestingly, many of them were associated with defeat.
It was inspiring to see Spain stick to their principals and win the European Cup playing football they way they think it should be played, but it was also great to see a true champion like Rafael Nadal behave well and acknowledge his opponent’s achievement, as he did when he lost to Rosol.
It was also great to see athletes continue to fight on even after the realistic chance of victory had slipped away, as Italy did in the cup final, and to see Mario Balotelli return to the pitch to accept his runner-up medal after he had stormed off to the dressing room at the final whistle.
Which brings me to the most inspiring thing I’ve seen at any of the competitions: which was the way the 21-year-old striker’s Italian teammates looked after his best interests and really seemed to care about helping him grow up whenever his temper got the best of him.
That’s what sport – and life – is all about; doing your best, caring about your mates and respecting everyone else. It’s not just about winning.