Be sporting, give your very best!

There’s a joke about Jesus viewing a football match between the ‘Catholic Conquerors’ and ‘Protestant
Punchers’. Both teams were excellent; the match was exciting. The Conquerors scored a goal first. Jesus jumped up, whistled wildly and applauded appreciatively. Then, the Punchers scored. Again, Jesus jumped up, whistled and clapped riotously. Puzzled, a spectator near him asked: “Which side are you shouting for?” Jesus replied, “I’m not cheering for any side. I’m just enjoying the game!” The man turned to his neighbour and sneered, “Hmmm, look at that atheist!”
If Rama, Jesus, Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak or any other Mahatma was asked which team he was for, and which against, would any of them choose just one and condemn others? I think not. Many might also frown upon juxtaposing sports with spirituality. Yet, June 1, Vatican’s Commission for Family and Life published a must-read document entitled: ‘Give the Best of Yourself: Christian Perspectives on Sport and Life’.
‘Sport’ stems from the Old French expression desporter or se desporter derived from the Latin
de(s)portare – meaning, to amuse oneself. Sure, a sports’ buff amuses oneself. But, once out on the field or court, one comes face-to-face with competitors to compete. The word ‘compete’ derives from two Latin roots ‘com’, meaning ‘with’ and ‘petere’, meaning ‘to strive’ or ‘to seek’. True competitors ‘strive or seek together’ for excellence. We have much to learn from competitors who shake hands, embrace, or share a meal after an intense contest.
Books like ‘If Cricket is Religion, Sachin is God’ felicitously wed sport with religion. Interestingly, in
1904, Pope Pius X opened the doors of the Vatican to sport by hosting a gymnastics event, much to the
chagrin of one of his counsellors. When questioned by him: “Where are we going to finish?” the pope
replied, tongue-in-cheek, “In Paradise, my dear!”
Pope Francis writes: “The bond between the church and the world of sports is a beautiful reality that has strengthened over time, for the church sees in sports a powerful instrument for the integral growth of the human person. Engaging in sports, in fact, rouses us to go beyond ourselves and our own self interests in a healthy way; it trains the spirit in sacrifice and, if it is organised well, it fosters loyalty in interpersonal relations, friendship, and respect for rules.”
The IPL of cricket, and its’ recent spillover in kabaddi and football are heartwarming national unifiers. FIFA World Cup 2018 will soon see frenzied fans following every move of a mesmerising Messi; Wimbledon will showcase the sturdy serenity of a never-say-die mother, Serena Williams; while another mother, Mary Kom, still packs a punch in her matchless bouts.
“I play for my country. For me, it must be everything or nothing,” said AB de Villiers recently, on retiring from cricket. His stress on “everything or nothing” is striking. In his autobiography he writes: “This book is not my story. It is the story of what God has planned and realised through me … I would really like people to appreciate that whatever glory there may be needs to be recognised as His glory, not mine.”
You cannot cross a yawning chasm with a series of little jumps; only a mighty leap would work. So, be
sporting! Pope Francis concludes: “Give life your very best; spend your life on what really matters and
lasts forever.
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