We expect so much of sport. In our culture we have invested it with an almost religious significance. And nowhere is that more evident than at the Olympic Games, with their rituals and ideals. We require that children take part in sport because we believe it will somehow make them better people. We prescribe exercise as a route to good health, a remedy for depression and a cure for obesity. We ask sportsmen and women to be role models, even if their qualification is not much more than skill with a football.
Then when we host a big competition we expect it to be much more than a sporting event. We want the Olympics to bring peace between nations, to produce economic benefits and to leave a legacy of regeneration. I can’t help but wonder whether the weight of expectations we place on sport risk crushing what is essential about it.
For some of the joy of sport is its sheer pointlessness. At best, people run and swim and jump for joy. And when grown men and women compete in team sports there’s something childlike about it. We invest sport with a great seriousness, but only because deep down we know that it’s not serious at all. Someone wins and someone loses, and there is joy and disappointment, but the great thing in sport is that it doesn’t really matter.
In Christian theology, creation itself is sometimes seen as a playful act of God. And looked at in this way, all sport is a sign of grace – of the playfulness of spirit that we can only enjoy when we know that in the end, in the fullness of God’s time, all shall be well.
God who gave us a spirit of playfulness,
Renew in us the joy of competition,
The fun of creativity
And the exhilaration that comes from discovering all that we are and can be.