The true spirit of sportsmanship is appreciation of the game itself. The game must not be a means of national or group superiority. In the English soccer, the teams were generally representative of a particular town. Soccer originally did not have a strong tradition of sportsmanship; it was the sport of the masses. So the crowd of spectators was divided into two parties; each would applaud a goal by their own side but would be silent when the other side scored.
But in a cricket match, the spectators—though supporting one side—would applaud a skilful stroke by one of the opposing batsmen. The true sportsman could appreciate an opponent’s skill as well as his own. He could rise above mere partisanship and view the game from above, as it were. This ability to rise above the immediate situation was one of the most valuable assets given by sport. Of course, the sportsman tries to win and tries very hard. But he is independent of winning or losing. He is not overly elated when he wins; he is not depressed when he loses. This attitude, if it is cultivated, gives him a calm independence even in the most dangerous situations in life.
We can say that this sporting attitude came to be appreciated in amateur soccer also, but not by the spectators at professional matches. There the sport has become an entertainment, mixed up with a sort of tribal hatred of the supporters of the other teams. The same has come to be true of some other sports: in the Olympics it is clear that for many of the teams the only thing that matters is victory— getting medals for their own country.
As cricket has become international, the behaviour of spectators shows that they do not understand the purpose of sport at all. They want their side to win; if disappointed, they invade the pitch and even attack the players. It must be said that the behaviour of Japanese spectators is in general much better than that of the Western ‘football hooligans’, among whom the British are some of the worst.
But, as a matter of fact, the whole business of making sport into an entertainment is a big loss. It becomes like horse racing. The spectators at a horse race do not themselves run; they just watch and bet. In ‘entertainment sport’, the spectators may never have played the game at all. They identify themselves with the players, but they do not themselves play. They get nothing out of it as a training for life.
The ‘entertainment players’ or ‘national representative players’ also get nothing out of the sport. They have no idea of self-control; they cannot rise above elation if they win, or depression if they lose. A good tennis player, even a champion, is just a tennis player; he may be no good at life at all. Today, his sport gives him no inner training except concentration and skill with a racket.
Against this, a good sportsman, though his technical skill may be not high, learns an inner balance that enables him to face the changes of life without inner disturbance. He does not get confused in a crisis: he can meet unexpected bad luck, or good luck, with the same calm smile and cool judgement. This is the true meaning of sport, not breaking world records in front of a passive audience who never takes part in sport themselves.
© Trevor Leggett