19 February 2013

The Demise of Sport?

by Dr Mark Keown

Recent months have been tumultuous for sport. The controversies keep coming; Lance Armstrong, revelations of corruption and drugs in Australian sport, match-fixing at global level in football, the Sonny Bill Williams – Francois Botha boxing fiasco, Oscar Pretorius, and more. We all know that such things are the tip of an iceberg. For example, while Lance Armstrong has been exposed as one of the greatest drug cheats of all time, we all know that he was not the only one and that other cycling teams were no doubt run in a similar way. Sport seems irrevocably tarnished.

Of course, that should not surprise us. Sport is no longer that thing working people did in their spare time and on the weekend to give them some release from the drudgery of work. It is no longer amateur, it is professional. It is entertainment and big money. Winning is now not something that brings a bit of fun and honour, it is worth huge money. It is fused to gambling, to the media, to advertising and to big business – and it seems, the underworld in many countries. Where there is a combination of all of the above, there is extreme corruption and it will only get worse.

As such, despite there being more sport to watch than ever before, I admit my love for sport is waning. I have grown up with it, and believe sport is in its purest form, a good thing. It promotes fitness and health, it creates community, it is a great training ground for life, etc. Now I simply find myself questioning what I am watching. Are they clean? Is it fixed? If Australian sport can be corrupted, can we be confident NZ’s sport is not? I don’t believe so.

I ponder whether sport should be professional and am certain it would be better if it was not linked to gambling and as big as it is in our society. I realise of course that there is no going back to the good ol’ days, but is what we now have a good thing for society? There is always good that can come from sport, but at what point does it become more destructive than constructive?

I ponder such things as – did the All Blacks win the World Cup clean? Or were they the team with the best sports scientists who could work the system? What about our Olympians? Were they clean?

When I look at the physiques of modern sportsmen and women, I wonder – are such physiques truly possible with good nutrition and modern training methods? These are the explanations we have traditionally used for explaining why people now have bodies like Sonny Bill Williams whereas once, they did not, despite their physical labour. Or is there something else going on?

From a Christian point of view this can take us in one of two directions. The apocalyptic perspective might say we should give up on sport and name it as corrupt idolatry and seek purity in either “Christian” sport or renouncing it. Alternatively, we take a redemptive perspective and as with all of society, seek to bring change to it that sport, as part of God’s world, becomes better. I think we should do some of the first, but the second approach is the better way. But that said, I no longer am fully sure when I watch a sporting event that the people involved are clean or that the event is not manipulated. I find myself unable to simply enjoy the game as I once did. That saddens me. What do you think of Christians and sport?

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