Is Sports Really About Fun And Recreation?

This article examines the reality of sports in today's world:The day is Wednesday, the 27th of July, 2022, on a cold night in Istanbul, Turkey. It's the UEFA Champions League group stage qualifiers match between Turkey's Fernabace and Ukraine's Dynamo Kyiv.

All seemed to be going on well until Dynamo's midfielder Vitaliy Buyalski scored a goal and went on to celebrate in a manner "that offended the Fernabace fans." The response of the fans was to hit below the belt by reminding the Ukrainians, and the world at large of the atrocities being committed by Putin's led Russia in Ukraine through "Vladimir Putin" chants. This would have been positive if it were not a taunt against the Ukrainians. Thereby subjecting the gravity of the impact of the war on Ukraine and the rest of the world to mere football banter. Fernabace football club has since disowned the section of its fans responsible for the chants in a statement, " Whatever the reason may be, we as the Fernabace Sports club reject the reaction coming from parts of our stands.." (dw.com). UEFA has also proceeded to "launch an investigation" into what transpired in Istanbul. 

Sports, We have been told, bring peoples of different nationalities, colors, and backgrounds together. We were told that it was basically for fun and recreation. Nothing more, nothing less. This has been my belief too, well, until I started playing football on the streets with my friends in what we called "Monkey posts" ( a popular Nigerian name for 5-aside, although the players for each team may vary from 3-5 depending on the size of the field and mood of the ball owner). In those games, where pride and the fear of being taunted as the loser are at stake, the drive to win becomes higher, and the desperation to achieve it brings about different types of antics in the game. It was usually like mimic warfare. International sports competitions have tolled the same part in recent history; the Olympics, the FIFA world cup, and the World athletics competitions have always been used as some sort of pride statement by countries which has enabled divisiveness and hostility rather than unity. 

In 1936, three years before Adolf Hitler plummeted the world into the most vicious and destructive war it had ever experienced, Germany hosted the Olympics. The tensions behind the emergence of Germany as the host of a competition that was supposed to unite people of different races and ideas in the face of Germany's racist and antisemitic Nazi government caused a lot of stirs and objections globally. However, the games went ahead as planned. The German Nazi government saw it as an opportunity to project itself as the "leader of the world" and expropriate its perceived moral superiority ideology to the rest of the world. In a bid to outdo the Americans, the 1936 Olympics was widely broadcasted, and the Germans ended up at the summit of the medals table. Perhaps, the show of moral and competitive dominance was part of what inspired Hitler to start a war in 1939. Sports had proven elusive to its most important duty; unification of men. 

In 1956, Valentin Prokopov struck the face of Ervin Zador in a water polo game between the USSR and Hungary at the Olympics. The incident was a vivid representation of the violence and arrogance that the USSR had been exhibiting in Hungary during the wake of its revolution. Before the game, the Hungarian team, as part of their match strategy to win and save some pride for their country, devised a means of taunting the USSR players to provoke and ultimately distract them. The result was Zador, a Hungarian player, getting punched by Valentin, a USSR player. Zador left the game with a bleeding eye, and the fans of both teams turned on each other; it took the intervention of the Police to restore order. Once again, sports had left countries angrier at each other than they had ever been before, attempting to "have fun and recreate." 

Back to today's reality in the wake of Russia's devastating invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine. Sports has once again failed in serving as any means of unifying or reconciling both countries. Rather, sporting organizations seem to think that by alienating Russian athletes, who know close to nothing about this invasion, from sporting competitions across the world, Vladimir Putin and his Oligarchs would somehow have a change of mind and rescind his decisions. Well, the war has continued to wage on, Ukrainians are dying, the majority of the world has been thrown into a food and energy crisis, and now, the war has been reduced to mere football banter. So I ask again, is sports really about fun and recreation? 

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