Friday, February 12, 2010
Future of Sport
The Future of Sport
I am working on a documentary and writing a book about sport where I begin by taking my audience on a journey to the ancient world where athletic contests were offerings to the gods – and in some cases, notably the Mayas, it was the athletes themselves who were the offerings! Sport was more than entertainment, an afternoon at the ball game, it was an individual and group religious experience. Sport had divine purpose whether as a rite to win celestial favor, to placate an angry deity, or to honor departed heroes.
Michael Novak, author of The Joy of Sports, insists this purpose still exists today: “...sports flow outward from a deep natural impulse that is radically religious: an impulse of freedom, respect for ritual limits, a zest for symbolic meaning, and a longing for perfection.”
Furthermore, Novak and others argue this function of sport is eternal whether we acknowledge this or not. Writes Andrew Cooper, “Sports satisfy our deep hunger to connect with a realm of mythic meaning...to see the transpersonal forces that work within and upon human nature enacted in dramatic form, and to experience the social cohesion that these forms make possible. Whether or not we so name them, these are religious functions.”
Sport’s spiritual function works on both the level of the athlete and the audience; in fact, each is often dependent on the other. A winning performance by an athlete can stir a crowd into exhilaration, and they, in turn, can compel an athlete to new heights. A few years ago a B.C. Lions ad campaign “Cheering works” alludeded to the popular notion of “home team advantage” whereby athletes are inspired by positive audience reaction and collective enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s not an accident, then, that the word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek, meaning “to be inspired or possessed by a god.”
This religious aspect of sport, however, has once again been sublimated by a secular culture: “Our society so thoroughly secularizes sport that we can barely recognize, let alone express, what it makes us feel,” laments Cooper. Recognition of the sacred has been reduced to popular idioms such as “team worship,” “sports icon” and, yes, “The Zone.”
Owning the Zone, traces the secularization of sport and asks the question, Did we go wrong and, if so, where? The implications of this question are far-reaching for they threaten to touch upon the malaise that is modern sport. Contract disputes and players’ strikes, diva behaviour among star athletes, crass commercialization, soaring ticket prices that make professional sports inaccessible to much of the masses, these and other problems might be attributed to some extent to the loss of sport’s sacred place.
We also ask the question, What does the secularization of sport mean for athletes and what implications, if any, does it have on their ability to enter The Zone?