Fair play is the basis of sport

Beneath a merciless sky which has led one of the tourists to remark that the excessive heat is caused by the absence of the ozone layer above us which has itself been caused by the local heavy population’s demand on natural resources we strut and fret, stress and sweat. We are watching Zimbabwe playing the Gujarat Cricket Association President’s XI, in a warm-up match ahead of the Africans’ first match of their International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy campaign.

The temperature is a good 37 degrees Celsius but someone argues that it is in fact 40. Unfortunately we dot have a thermometer and so have to make do with agreement that it is between 37 and 40. The heat discourages any argument. Which leaves one wondering why that is not the basis of long-lasting peace settlements in the Middle East.

A local journalist ‘ they call themselves Amdavadis these denizens of the capital of the state of Gujarat ‘ comes to sit on my left. He puts down a freezing soft drink supplied by the official beverage provider of the tournament which is one of the Official Global Partners. In modern sport, a major tournament has a sponsor for everything: you cannot use any other car except from the official vehicle supplier, you sleep at the official hospitality partner, drink the official beverage and text through the official communications provider. Woe befalls you if you breach that. Remember the story of the Dutch fans who had to remove their orange trousers during the recent Fifa World Cup in Germany because they amounted to ambush marketing?

But I digress. Look, I cannot apologise every Sunday for doing this every Sunday. You should know me by now and accept that that is my style. It is the nature of the beast.

I was saying this journalist places a weeping plastic container in front of him and then says to me in the so friendly manner the people of the subcontinent appear to reserve for visitors: “Is it hot like this in your country, no?” I tell him the savannah grasslands can be harsh, but never this harsh. With sympathy oozing from his pores like the sweat is from mine, he says I can have his drink. I tell him I would love to but that he should have it as he brought it for himself. If I have it because I am burning, what will he do because he got it because he was burning?

But he does not see a problem: “We both will share.” Sweet! That takes me back to the innocence of childhood when you broke the sweet between your teeth and gave a piece to your friend. When you bit into a guava, took the smaller piece in your mouth and gave that to a neighbour, while you proceeded to enjoy the remainder you held in your hand.

How do I tell my brother that since then I have come across literature on infections and cross-infections? How do I tell him that I could be dangerous to him in that regard? But ‘ and now I am giving you the actual reason ‘ that I have been reading in Indian newspapers and seeing on Indian television reports of people dying of some dengue fever: gums bleeding and such like horrors as life ebbs out?

I do not and he sips. I do not and he waits. He waits. Then he sips again. I do not. Then he sips again and pushes the bottle towards me, saying “Mr Lovemore, drink. I feel much better already.”

I take the bottle and simultaneously uncork it while swerving to my right and, with that movement, hiding that I am wiping its mouth.

I am ashamed of myself.

The ICC has dedicated the 2006 edition of its Champions Trophy to what the world cricket-governing body has called “the Spirit of Cricket”. Many of the world’s leading cricketers have backed the move.

“It is important that, during the ICC Champions Trophy, when the world is watching, everybody should get together and send out a message that while cricket is a tough sport you do not need to have that extra arrogance that makes you an unpleasant competitor.

“So, I think the message that needs to be sent out is to play tough, play to win but play fair. If you play the game in the right spirit you will keep the honour of your country, your team and your game intact when you walk away from the boundary line.”

That was said by the Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman Kumar Sangakkara, a great all-rounder on the field and a gentleman off it.

Indeed, what is sport without fair play? What is sport but a dedication, a celebration of fair play? This is why when someone does something that is not right the phrase “It is not cricket” is employed. Because cricket is held to be a gentleman’s game. But then any sport actually commits itself to fair play. That is why a good deed is described as a “sporting gesture.” That is why someone who is a jolly good fellow is described as a “sport”.

Playing the game, any sport, in the right spirit, inspires others to take up that game, spreading its popularity and hence its benefits to those who practise it. Just being good in a sport is not good enough. I am not saying this to bamboozle you with the oxymoronic turn of phrase. I am not just out to wax paradoxical. Although ‘ and once again I am being honest here ‘ if I should do that in the scheme of things then by all means, Dear Reader, do pause and applaud.

To be competitive does not mean to ignore the rules. It is not a jungle. It is the playing field. And the phrase “level playing field” has become a buzz-word. Ask yourself why. Well, because that is the basis of competition. Can you have the satisfaction of being faster than me over 400 metres if, by some magic such as we hear about in our folk tales, you get on an invisible bicycle just after the starting line, cycle all the way and then get down just in time to take the last step leading you to step over the finishing line?

This is why drugs are also discouraged in sport. They go against the grain of fair play. It is just not fair play.

Sport relies on those who pursue it playing hard but fair. It is in pursuit of that ideal that the world soccer-governing body, Fifa, commemorates World Fair Play Day. The 10th edition was held over the week of the 18th to the 24th of September this year.

Every sportsperson should accept and respect that fair play is the platform from which their craft is launched. To ignore that makes that sportsperson an “unpleasant competitor”.

October 2006
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