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Keeping the spirit alive...

The winner takes it all?

Sports deservedly demand a major share of our lives not merely because they are categorized as entertainment, but because there’s more to these mere games apart from all the legends, glamour, suspense, money, adoration or awe. An inseparable component called ‘spirit’ that transcends all these petty frugal emotions and reminds us that sport is an unforgettable experience. We easily recall those moments of honor with pride, for it’s in those transient yet transcendental moments that we are stirred to be the innate humans we essentially are. Of being with a heart whose beats define our existence, and whose cares define our life.

However, with the ever increasing number of shameful tales in the news of late, we’ve begun to lose the real meaning of a game. Every instance of an infamous match-fixing, greed for money in betting, throwing a match, doping, etc. forces a nascent follower to believe that victory is greater than the game. Ridiculous as it seems, their mistake is as much ours, given the way we adore champions in victories and forget others’ efforts. Sportsmen no longer participate to complete a field but take pride in victory, even if it means attaining it the wrong way. Shameful but ironically, the bitter reality!

Lance Armstrong- simple doing whatever it takes?

Could you blame the young minds who take to false means when their childhood inspiration is a legendary Lance Armstrong – apparently a winner who battled life and drug tests to win at the expense of a morality he suppressed with cheek? Could you blame a kid for resorting to sledging because he idolized the elite kangaroos from Down Under right from his childhood?

Well, the mistake of a dark future isn’t a curse on the poor inhabitants of that generation, but the graveyard built on the brittle foundations laid by the present. It’s better late than never that we learn to play, or, for that matter, even approach life as a means to happiness in participation, and not just be obsessed with victory.

Honestly, most such austere preaching is to be taken with a pinch of salt. Giving such a statement when you’ve just faltered at the Olympics might seem an excuse of an incapable escapist. But trust that there is no cowardice in playing to your best and still failing. After all, victory isn’t a destination but a journey. Failures are but temporary road-blocks that everyone faces in his or her journey. Real failure is in quitting after being bogged down by these obstacles. And the real fight is with yourself alone!

Now if you are still critical of my docile, passive approach to a competitive atmosphere, here’s an incident etched in my memory that shows what it takes for a real victory.

This was narrated by His Excellency A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former president of our country, when queried about the one precious memory that he’d take back from his presidential office for eternity.

He was invited as the chief guest to a school for the physically challenged and disabled. Ever the humble soul that he was, he obliged without a second thought despite other busy appointments. Apparently the school had arranged a small sports competition for all the inmates to cheer up the kids at the end of the program. One of the many planned events happened to be a 100 mts race. At the sound of the gun shot, all the physically challenged kids took off the blocks with great pain, yet brimming with enthusiasm.

As a witness, one couldn’t miss the pain that they were going through. But in that moment, to each one of them, the joy of playing outweighed the pain of their incapability. As they limped off with determination in their blocks, one participant stumbled and fell. However, the indefatigable will to not give up seemed evident from the way he kept trying to heave himself up. Try as he might, he kept failing over even as he kept saying between his sobs, ‘I want to win.’ By this time, every watchful eye was in tears, wanting to run out to the poor soul.

But just then, something truly magical happened. Another participant who noticed the fallen boy cry stopped, turned back and went up to the fallen boy. Helping him to his feet, the two together started towards the finish line. Seeing this, all the others too joined hand-in-hand and together all of them stepped up to the finish line, to the vociferous claps of the entire audience who were on their feet. I’m pretty sure no eye in the audience was dry at that moment.

Agreed, this is a tale bordering on the melodramatic, but it is also an example of the real humanity that defines us. You may rightly argue that we can’t expect all competitions to be the same – pure sportsman spirit at the expense of competitive edge. But just a little loss of competitiveness won’t help one lose the joy of playing a game.

Keeping the spirit alive…

On that day, we certainly weren’t taught ‘how to play’ by a bunch of unqualified, no-talent first-timers. But what they drove home was the perfect lesson of ‘why to play!’ No record was broken. No super-human feat was exhibited. No mark of immortal brilliance from a timeless legend was displayed. There weren’t even thousands of viewers to cheer a momentous feat in the history of sporting civilization. And yet, it was the ‘sport’s greatest moment in history’ – not in celebration of a victory coming from disfigured bodies, but rather from complete hearts!

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