The Tao of Olympics

Though the Olympics was to be a celebration of sport for sports sake, it has degenerated into an all out show of jingoism and crass commercialism. During the cold war days, it was the continuation of war by other means. India, a civilisation that should know better, has succumbed to this mania. Every India—Pakistan encounter is loaded with political connotation, and is a continuation of hostility. Gone are the days when hockey was played for love. A terrorist expert now wants to shoot the players into a gold medal. Others want to ‘train them young’. Plans are afoot, as they are after every dismal show. It is no longer ‘sports’manship but ‘show’manship.

‘To be a good sport’ used to be an accolade. We have already forgotten that the revived Olympics was meant to be for ‘amateurs’—those who played for love. Where is this ‘love’ now, when competition rules, winning at any cost—including abuse of the body—is the only criterion, and top officials of every country are complicit? Sports medicine research has degenerated to expensive ways of finding masking agents so that banned substances are not detected in tests, and sports medicine is administering these masking agents to willingly ignorant athletes. ‘Willingly ignorant’ since sports ‘ethics’ lies in ‘plausible denial’.

The present competitive environment makes mockery of ‘it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game’. After commercialising our labour, we have commercialised our sports, and put a price to our festivals, healthcare, culture, patriotism—all up for grabs to the highest bidder, at the lowest common denominator—and sold our very souls in the process. The Olympics is Big Business. Right from the construction contractors, to the drug industry, to travel and tourism, sports goods to increasing media interests—none of which the ‘common’ citizen can afford, all dance together.

If all human endeavours are to be competitive, where will the space be for recreation? If a child just expresses an interest in passing, parents who can afford to push extra coaches and schedules on the hapless youngster, to the dismay and envy of parents who cannot—and the regret of the child. The budding interest in a pastime is transformed into a rigorous preparatory regime of a potential money spinning career. One consequence is that activity and action are confused with fulfilment, and therefore a loss of ability to be content or uplifted just sitting and looking at the sunset. Enjoyment then requires constant movement, activity—and the more expensive the better.

If the pursuit of pleasure and recreation requires multinational sponsorship, where are we heading? Cricket used to mirror a philosophy of life: where there were winners and losers sometimes, but most times there would be draws, because life does not always have winners and losers, but is a ‘draw’. The bastardised version, though making good television programming, demands that one side lose. The rules of many games have been changed to make them more suitable for television programming, and for faster play. But neither life nor sport should be determined by television programming needs.

We are yet to understand even the contours of the psychological consequences of this unbridled competition. What happens when one is crowned the king or queen of the world in the teens, and then lives up to 75 or 80? How do they adjust to being the ‘shadow of their former selves’ from the age of 20 to 80? What about those who repeatedly ‘lose’—despite being the best in their country, and among the 10 best in the world? Or Anju’s dejection, despite a personal best, despite setting a national record? The smiles are broadest on the face of the teams placed first and third. Because the second has lost the last game, and the third has won theirs. Is the cost worth it, when the sports ‘industry’ eats up the young, and then discards them so heartlessly?

Human endeavour should be to celebrate life, enjoying every step of the way. Creating winners and losers does not add value to life. Creating a competitive environment that intrudes into every sphere of our life is detrimental to the quality of life, culture and civilisation. Let the immature fight for the spoils of war. Let us play because we love to, not because we are paid to. And certainly not become proxy warriors or pawns in the game of geopolitics or business interests. Everything in life need not be for sale. Every sport does not need to create winners and losers.

Just as the line between work and play is blurring, the line between player and spectator is hardening. By all means get medals, but after a mass movement where play is for the sake of playing. Not for excellence. Not for the glory of the nation. Not for the glory of advertisers and sponsors. Support sports, but not for the tax deductions. Medals should be an ‘optional extra’ at best, with primary satisfaction from just playing and enjoying the game, sometimes to the best of our ability, always for the fun of it.

Many have been forced to work for sheer survival. Let at least recreation be for pleasure. Peace and satisfaction come from within, from the serene security of knowing that we celebrated life, rather than striving for the fleeting and fickle external acknowledgement. Enjoy playing. Enjoy the game. That is the true victory. That is Tao. Medals can wait.