Posted: 04 August 2014

Was it worth staying up for?

Paul Burnell reflects on what we can learn from major sporting events like the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.

A few weeks ago, a colleague told me how his 10-year-old had pestered him to be allowed to stay up late to watch the England v Italy World Cup football match, only for him to be fast asleep by half time.

Last month saw the World Cup reach its climax in Brazil and the Commonwealth Games conclude today in Glasgow. Many of us have been bowled over by football’s greatest show and the Commonwealth Games have set some on their dreams of sporting glory.

There are those who argue that the media hype and national obsession with sport is not healthy for children and that sport is a false god. But sport has many valuable lessons.

Not just about me

In team games, one of the most important lessons is that life is 'not just about me' and if your team is to succeed you have to get over yourself and blend with others for a wider goal.

There is also the lesson about how to win and lose with equal grace (in the case of England fans it has been mostly about losing).

When we win, do we celebrate but not denigrate our opponents because on another day the roles could have been reversed? When we lose do we learn, in the words of the Rolling Stones, 'You can’t always get what you want'?

You learn values of commitment, self-sacrifice and friendship. Of course sport has its downside, not just the rampant commercialism and the monstrous egos of some performers.

One of the most poignant memories of my childhood is when I asked my granddad if he had ever played football for his school team. I had just been picked for my school for the first time and wanted to share my joy.

Granddad replied sadly: 'I had a trial but I couldn’t afford a pair of boots.'

Sport can also highlight how people are excluded in society. How does the World Cup really benefit those in Brazil’s favelas?

But on a good day, participating in sport or even watching an event is essentially life-enhancing, taking us out of the drudgery of life, giving us a glimpse of experience of something beyond ourselves.

As Saint Irenaeus put it, 'The glory of God is man fully alive', and there are moments in sport where we can feel fully alive.


This month’s resources





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