Wimbledon & Sport Fandom

Now, as you may have guessed, this will have almost nothing to do with writing. And no, this is not because I’m currently terminally bored, unemployed, or because I need to fill up the extra space on this blog. Don’t be absurd.

I have more credibility than that. Sort of.

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine last night (and you can find him here) about sport and sport fandom. See, he couldn’t quite figure out why I was getting upset over the fact that Roger Federer (my idol) was losing in the first round of Wimbledon. In actual fact, he can’t quite see why anyone would get upset or excited or feel anything other than mild interest over a sporting event and its result. Logically, neither can I.

The World Cup and soccer in general (yes, soccer, not football, to hell with anyone that says otherwise) is a good example of this. How many times have we seen images of rowdy European soccer crowds going nuts and trying to kill one another? (Granted, Europeans are generally rowdy and trying to kill each other anyway) Sport fanatics are…well, fanatical. The bane of civilised society and quiet nights! The cause of bleary eyes after long nights staying up to watch a game in Ecuador. And for what?

A bunch of grown men in short shorts kicking a ball around?

Now, of course you can reduce most activities to one comical line like that and it doesn’t really sum up the picture. Take writing for instance – there are no doubt passionate followers of various authors out there, and passionate advocates of writing itself too, and what is it really? Some middle aged guy sitting on his arse all day putting inky scribbles on paper. What of acting and actors? A bunch of people dedicated to playing pretend for the entirety of their lives and being paid an absurd amount of money for it too.

Is there more to it than that? Possibly. I say possibly because it’s entirely subjective – we create meaning where there is none. We do it in our day to day activities, we do it with life itself by inventing religion and ideologies, we invest more and more of ourselves in the world, hoping to shape it into something more than an uncaring lump of rock and chemical processes. I’ve certainly invested a lot in Roger Federer. And I can tell you I was quite upset that he was losing last night.

Here is a man who has all but redefined the modern sport of Tennis and broken every major record there has ever been, while creating a fair number of his own, and all before he reached the age of 27. Here is a man who is known as the “King of Wimbledon”, who has made it to the past 7 straight finals, winning 6 of them and who is frequently characterised as sublime, divine, and inhuman.

Why do I idolise him? For a bunch of statistics? In part. He was number 1 for 235 consecutive weeks. From 2003 to 2008. To understand the implications of that you must first realise that it’s not enough to simply have a good week, or a good month, or a good year of tennis — the game is structured so that if you fail to record the same result you did in the previous year, you lose all the points you gained.

Which means that for Federer to have stayed at number 1 for that amount of consecutive weeks (the most ever) he had to beat everyone, at the same events he won the previous year, again and again, year after year, never faltering before mounting pressure — the physical and mental consistency he has exhibited is astounding. It’s that physical and mental strength I respect and cherish.

He’s a champion.

Dave hypothesised that it’s our competitive edge that makes us so passionate about sport, we pick proxies, and live vicariously through them – if they win, we feel we’ve won, if they lose, we lose, and so on. I guess to a degree that’s true. Sometimes it’s territorial – you want your county, province, state, country to beat the other, neighbouring area and so on and so forth, which is to say, that sometimes it’s defined by your opposition.

For instance, before Federer was playing, my favourite tennis player was Andre Agassi and I used to love and cheer for him during his epic encounters against Pete Sampras (who frequently won, unfortunately). My brother made a point of shitting on any player I went for and cheering for the opposing player and that’s probably got something to do with the entrenched attachment I’ve formed with these playera too.

it’s ephemeral though, at the end of the day. It’s not something that’s returned. Whether it’s sport, or politics, or religion, or music, or writing – we give and we give, pouring out emotion, forming sentimental attachment after sentimental attachment – it’s never returned. Those players, writers, politicians, dancers, in turn, form their own attachments and outpourings to other existent forces, games, etc. It’s all one way traffic.

Does that change anything? Not really. I get sick at the thought of Federer losing in the first round – thankfully, he came back and won from a 2 set to love deficit – during some of the more tense moments in the sets, I refused to move (I’m one of those weird sport-superstitious people that go so far as to attribute their own actions as factors in the game, ie, if I’m sitting in one position and he’s playing well, I won’t move. Yeah, I need help, I know.) – because I want him to succeed, or at least do reasonably well. This is his tournament, damn it, and his victories here are the stuff of legend, that will go down in history.

So, those are my thoughts on the matter anyway. How do you like this for an arbitrary blog post? 😛

June 22, 2010
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  1. David H. Purcell See, here's my fundamental problem with this particular kind of sports-fanaticism: You (and not just you, obviously. In fact, most people who aren't me) are very ready to spout facts and stats, to wax lyrical about a person or teams' ability and impact and whatever else. I get it. They're champions. Who doesn't like watching a person at the top of their game (in any field), do what they do well? I can and do appreciate that. But it always comes down to one question for me: "What does it have to do with you?" When he wins, you didn't hit any of the balls. When he loses, it wasn't you that made him miss that crucial shot. He doesn't do it for you, he doesn't do it because of you, and he doesn't do it with you. You don't factor into it at all, on any level. It also doesn't affect your life. If he wins, you don't get any of the prize money. If he loses, you're not put in danger or out of a job. So, accepting these things as true, the logical progression (from my perspective) is "why get upset about it?". [I will at this juncture point out that I realise I am in the minority in this issue, and that it's entirely a lack on my part that leaves me unable to get involved in sport in the normal way. This is an improvement, I like to think, on my behalf over my previous philosophy of "all sports fans are stupid".] [Also, soccer should be the only sport allowed to be called football, because it's the only one where people ACTUALLY KICK A BALL WITH THEIR FEET. What Australians call football should be called "hug-a-strangely-shaped-ballish-thing-and-run-headfirst-into-other-people-ball".

    June 22, 2010 at 9:18 am · Reply
  2. omeezy Hahahahaha, "hug-a-strangely-shaped-ballish-thing-and-run-headfirst-into-other-people-ball" is perhaps the greatest name for a sport that I can imagine. It's actually called Rugby League but casually referred to as football, as that's what we call the ball...I think. Also, I acknowledged that it was all one way!

    June 22, 2010 at 9:38 am · Reply
  3. Snoink Well, I don't get that way with sports, but I definitely get that way with other things. When somebody I knows fails a test, I feel awful for that person. I KNOW I am not that person and that the failure should be his entirely, but it puts me down too. It's a kind of empathetic ability, as it were. And granted, I don't feel that way for soccer or tennis (which are not really hyped up sports here in the states) but I do associate myself with certain teams that are local for me (the 49ers, the Giants, etc.) since we have something in common, and I feel bad when they lose. So basically... it kind of makes sense. :P

    June 23, 2010 at 6:26 am · Reply
  4. Dan I think the closest thing I can get to putting into words why we love sport so much, and are so passionate--and yes, superstitious--about it is this: the entirety of the human experience can be summed up in sport; either through the playing itself, but more often than not, through our experiences as spectators. We experience the gamut of emotions from ecstasy to crushing heartbreak and everything in between. We cheer in victory, and cry rivers in defeat. And sometimes, in the rare occasions when we (as you explain we use 'we' to include ourselves in our teams' glory) overcome all odds, we, as spectators may even cry tears of joy. I know its not logical, and it doesn't sound in anyway near as beautiful as it really is, but thats the way it is. And the way you feel about tennis is how I am with football. That's right, football. Not 'soccer', football. ;) Cheers, Mate.

    June 25, 2010 at 5:51 am · Reply

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