The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis never before seen by the modern world in terms of potency and crippling effect. But I believe that the world will soon recover—altered but intact. It is a long journey filled with anxiety and uncertainties, and the first question is how do we go from here to there?
COVID-19 has demolished a large part of what we consider as our normal life, but we are not made barren or left empty. We rebuild using the tools we have and utilize those that foster qualities that assist in the long and arduous process of recovery, qualities like fellowship, camaraderie, esprit de corps, unity, and hope.
Of all the tools available in the work shed, it is not surprising many are reaching for sports, to the disbelief and disapproval of shortsighted skeptics and cynics.
Many argue that sports is not essential now that we are trying to survive COVID-19. I have a different take on the matter. Artist David Zinn said “Science is how we solve problems. Art is how we cope with them.” Naturally when we say ‘art’, painters, musicians, dancers, and the like come to mind. For me, I have another group of artists in mind: athletes.
Tim Harte, in his book “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Comrades! Sports, Art, and Ideology in Late Russian and Early Soviet Culture”, wrote: “Artists themselves have claimed that athletes are capable of producing an art form all their own. (Alexander) Blok...viewed athletes as true artists while Vladimir Nabokov commented at length on the beauty of the very art of boxing.”
Put together, this means we cope with sports in tow. Michael Wheeler and Nigel Whiteley (paraphrasing John Ruskin) couldn’t have had put it more eloquently: sports [where it is originally written ‘art’ in their book The Lamp of Memory: Ruskin, Tradition, and Architecture] “provides the comfort and strength required for the development of good character.”
COVID-19 is a cavalry charge threatening to break our spirit by dismantling institutions—academe, commerce, religious exercise, sports, among others—forging our identity, our sense of self, and our sense of purpose. It wants us to stay home, stay away from each other, stay put, stay still, and stay fearful.
But right now, stakeholders are doing their best to hold the line. Many refuse to let sports surrender without a fight, even if it means a reorganized calendar, lengthy logistical planning to ensure that sports is played in a safe setting, and pay cut and wage deferrals so that teams, organizations, and employees of support systems (and their families too) can stay afloat. Athletes have accepted the challenge to help carry this burden. NBA players and executives are on board, so are footballers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and their teammates and many others in association football. This has been embraced by rugby teams in Europe and Australia, as well as the Philippine Super Liga volleyball players, too.
Why the sacrifice and this level of faith? Ingrained deep inside us is the notion that sports is constant because it hasn’t failed or abandoned us despite the conditions that had beset sports, despite the threats of terrorism and financial crisis, despite pandemics and armed conflicts. The 1918 World Series was played despite countries and soldiers fighting the Great War. Cyclists raced during the 1939 Tour De France despite the political climate in Europe, and even when World War II erupted, football competitions continued in Europe.
Maybe in the past, we look to sports merely for entertainment. Now, we follow sports to be inspired, and a lot of good things one can do in the world if one is inspired, especially now in the age of COVID-19.
I end with an excerpt from the statement made by Hon. Lionel Wilson when he was mayor of Oakland, California, talking about the importance of the Oakland Raiders, and how this translates to the importance of sports in our collective social psyche now that we are trying to survive a crisis: “The Raiders have been an important part of the soul of our community. As in other sports communities, our team has been a unifying force, a source of pride, and a symbol of the spirit of a community that is working overtime to realize its full potential.”
If we stop sports now, we will still survive. But can you imagine what kind of person you and I will become without sports? I can’t.