It all began in the winter, in Australia. England’s cricket team were soundly beaten and lost the Ashes. Later in the winter England’s rugby team were soundly beaten by Wales. England’s football team failed to qualify from the group stages of the World Cup (in common with Spain and Italy). Andy Murray failed to progress beyond the quarter finals in defending his Wimbledon title. The cricket team’s woes have continued at home and, according to the newspapers and the television reporters it is all an unmitigated disaster. We must have someone to blame: the captain, the manager, the commitment of the team or the individual. But it isn’t just an English phenomenon. Look at the reaction to Brazil’s dramatic failure in the World Cup.
Why is it that people set so much store by the success of their national teams, or representatives in individual sports? What makes the media go into such in-depth analysis of what went wrong when expectations are not met? And, in these days of instant response through Twitter, what drives people to post insulting remarks about the sporting stars whose failure has ‘let our nation down’?
In answer to those questions one word comes to mind – escapism. At its most basic level it is a dissatisfaction with our own lifestyles; an escape from boredom, or, as in the case of countries like Brazil, blotting out for a few brief moments the abject poverty in which significant proportions of the population still live. While there is nothing wrong with identifying with the success of national representatives and enjoying their moment as if it were our own, there are at least two problems which emerge. First, the moment is only fleeting; the euphoria wears off and the reality of our lives re-surfaces. Second, we, who have invested nothing in the venture, have no right to make any claim on another’s success.
At the battle of Trafalgar it is reported that Nelson said ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’ Today England (in the form of the media and the myriads of swarming gnat-like tweeters) expects that every sportsman or woman will win everything. So it’s also about pride and arrogance, which is also a deflection from the human condition. Is this the legacy of the Games which was so proudly announced in 2012? No, it is simply the legacy of a divided world, which despises the loser.
But there is another legacy – the legacy of the Cross, which calls on all people to look and be healed; to draw together in mutual support; to see value in all endeavour whatever the result. God loves a loser, because without the unstinting efforts of many losers there would never be a worthy winner.