Opinion: Keep sport true to its roots

By Marcus Agnew

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Marcus Agnew, talent development project co-ordinator, Sport Hawke's Bay, pictured at the EIT gym in the Pettigrew.Green Arena, Napier. 20 May 2015 Hawke's Bay Today Photograph by Duncan Brown. HB
Marcus Agnew, talent development project co-ordinator, Sport Hawke's Bay, pictured at the EIT gym in the Pettigrew.Green Arena, Napier. 20 May 2015 Hawke's Bay Today Photograph by Duncan Brown. HB

Sport - what is it good for?

Sport gets its fair share of knockers, but really, it's just a tall poppy thing. Sport, and high-profile sports people are up there to be knocked, and human nature as it is, that's what we do.

Sure, sport isn't for everybody, but it goes pretty close. It doesn't connect everybody, but goes closer than anything else I can think of (except oxygen ... I just thought of oxygen).

Yes, like it not, sport even gets its own segment on the national news, every night. And what other human endeavour attracts and fills large stadiums of people. Like it or not, lots of people like sport. Accept it, it's a fact isn't it?

Maybe it's because competition is human nature - it's in our DNA - it comes from that survival thing when we were cavemen (and women).

The challenge then for us, as intelligent human beings? ... is to harness our naturally competitive human tendencies, and to channel them the right way, to optimise the health and cohesiveness of our society (surely?).

And by that I mean, these days the money and commercialism threatens to destroy the original virtues of sport. The power of the media, and the almighty dollar, threaten to distort our appreciation of what sport should really be about.

So what is it really about? Well a good place to start ... is the start. I mean the start of the modern Olympics.

How did the Olympics start? Did they just randomly decide to call up a few athletes from around the world to bash each other. No they didn't. There was great thought and philosophies underpinning the whole point of the Olympics - the whole point of competition - the whole point of sport.

Pierre Baron de Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympics - and one of his main original inspirations was to promote a healthier community in his home county of France.

As he furthered his idea of resurrecting the Olympics, other philosophies emerged to underpin the importance of sporting competition in modern society. Some of his quotes from the late 1800s still ring true today, and are a great reminder of what sport is all about....:
• "The Olympic Spirit is neither the property of one race nor of one age"
•"The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
•"Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles."
•"For each individual, sport is a possible source for inner improvement."
•"Sport must be accessible to working class youth."
•"Racial distinctions should not play a role in sport."
And therefore de Coubertin believed in the tendency of athletic competition to promote understanding and peace across cultures.
De Coubertinbelieved the French educational system was too intellectual. Perhaps he still has a point today, I mean we get slammed all the time for too much sport - but who's to say there isn't too much intellectual focus at schools? I mean ask yourself, how much content were you forced to learn at school that you have never used since? Yet at the same time we say, "oh no, you mustn't do too much physical education, some students don't like it" ... right, I wish I could have used that excuse in the classroom - "sorry ma'am, I just don't like polynomials"!

Well who's to say we can't flip it on its head, and be brave enough to say that actually, rather than there being too much focus on the physical activity and healthy eating, wake up, it's actually the opposite! That's right, there is an over emphasis on the intellectual development, a carry-over from our colonial past, and not enough focus on seriously fun and quality physical education - i.e. yes, our actual bodies, that we use, to do stuff ... yes our bodies, that if we don't look after will fail, cost society a fortune, and even give up on us completely; die.

But oh no, we can't have too much physical education and nutrition education, that would be wasting time, we need to be in the classroom learning, yes learning!

Of course some of us will gravitate towards the arts, which is great, and which even used to be in the Olympics! Even chess nearly got into the Olympics for 2020. I for one now find myself at highland dancing ... not knowing a thing about it, wondering what is going on, and 'how did I end up here', but marvelling at the dedication and skill of the young girls competing, and their taskmaster that they all revere, instilling wonderful habits of discipline and respect.

So we shouldn't be made to feel guilty for getting involved and growing sport for the future of society, and arts or any other form of recreation - I have focused on sport because it is a tall poppy, prone to getting knocked down, and increasingly vulnerable in this increasingly PC world.

So yes, we need to resist the knockers, not quietly shuffle away. But yes, we also need to ensure that sport stays true to its roots - the roots we typically see in all our community level sport, and the roots of de Coubertin, back in the 1800s, the founder of the modern Olympics for health and humanity.

Long live the Olympic spirit.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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