As I eagerly await the opening ceremonies to the games of the XXX Olympiad, I find myself contemplating the very concept of sport. As I am want to do when I embark on such etherial pursuits of thought, I first turn to wikipedia for the etymology of the word. This is what I found:
The French word for sport is based on the Persian word bord, meaning “winning” or “win”.
I take issue with the Persian origin of the French term because like all other Romantic languages, the literal meaning of the word for sport is to “take away”, or deport. This has nothing to do with winning.
Sport is meant to take the athlete away from the harsh realities of life. It is arguably the oldest form of therapy. Of course, winning is often times soothing to the individual but defeat can also be constructive in ones life.
While serving as a diversion from life, it does not liberate the participants from their duty to always strive for perfection. Sport formalizes the process for seeking mastery. To pursue greatness means that one must learn to handle triumph and failure without developing any self-sabotaging thoughts about themselves, their performance or their opponents. Somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that shielding our youth from such dissapointment (the mercy rule) would be a good idea. That’s another issue for another time.
There is no denying that sport serves a real purpose in life. If not, it would not be so ubiquitous throughout human history.
Of course it had different uses in different civilizations but the basic themes were pretty much consistent throughout them all.
Sport was a means to train an army, socialize male aggression and refine the physical form through expression of dance, strength and endurance.
You might be surprised to learn that sport even in ancient times, served the economic purpose it does today. Great wealth was distributed to the working and warrior classes of societies as prizes for various contests. This is most poetically related in Homer’s The Illiad when, to commemorate his fallen brother, Achilles holds a series of games after the funeral of Patroclus. Ancient Roman boys collected action figures of their favorite gladiators while their wealthy mothers paid for an evening with the victorious gladiator.
Sport today is still about more than just the endorsement deals, fancy cars and Twitter faux pas. Sport serves a deeper purpose for us all whether we are aware of it or not. We need not ever set foot on any field, pitch or court to reap the benefits and lessons that sport has to offer. It is a necessary diversion from reality while remaining instructive of all the trials of life. It builds character, teaches us how to overcome adversity and win with grace. It is our own King Solomon’s ring….
…this too shall pass.