the beauty of sport

by hredekop

Quite often sporting events at the international level receive heavy criticism that frankly outweighs whatever global community “feel good” atmosphere used as justification for the games.

I mean, I would love to go to the Olympics.  Even better, the World Cup.  And in all reality, I have the ability and the resources to make it happen.  But then there’s that whole injustice thing.  Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics – had I wanted to I could have gone.  But when I visited over Christmas 2009 I saw the houses slated for demolition and heard stories of the families displaced in the name of “unity”.  Brazil hosts the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2 more.  Since I’m practically neighbours with them, a quick jaunt through the Amazon would have me in the Macarena stadium with a vuvuzela and a big obnoxious jester hat sporting the colours of whichever rainbow my heart so desires.  But recently I watched a youtube video of a young Brazilian woman pleading with the world to understand the magnitude of what the effects of the World Cup has on her people.  It’s the same story of the impoverished being pushed out of sight while the rich enjoy the beauty of the best athleticism there is to see.

So I don’t think I could go.  If I want to sleep at night.

Which is unfortunate, because there is that whole “feel good” global community about it all.  I think sport – and the international stage and competition that go with it – when properly executed and intelligently designed, serves as a fantastic medium to bridge culture and language, erase borders and conflicts, and work together towards a common goal.  I know, sappy.  But I felt it happen this week.

For some odd reason, the organizers of the AMF Women’s Futsal World Championship decided to host this year’s games in Barrancabermeja.  We here in the city felt a little sorry for the Canadians, Chinese, Australians, and Czechs, among other teams, who arrived for the tournament because if they were expecting cultural attractions, good entertainment, a pulsing night-life, or anything relatively exciting, they weren’t going to find that here in our lovely Barranca.  But, our pity didn’t last too long because that meant for the next two weeks, we and the rest of this tiny oil town, would have our fill of culture and entertainment.  Remind me to put the AMF in my will.

First game of the tournament: Canada vs. Colombia.  Couldn’t have been a better start.  My co-workers and I secured our tickets the day before and dug up the Canadian flags from storage.  The taxi ride to the stadium buzzed with anticipation.  We strode into the stadium wrapped in the maple leaf with our chalk-coloured limbs, obviously sticking out in a sea of yellow-shirted sun-weathered Colombian costeños.  And then we lost 16-0.

But thankfully, I’m one of those sports fanatics who might not be allowed to consider myself a fanatic per se, since I often forget the score before I even get home.  What was so definitive for me, and left me with 10 more ticket stubs and no more stipend, was the energy inside that place.  To be honest, I didn’t think there would be more than 100 people in the stadium, considering it’s futsal, and women’s at that.  The place almost sold out.

At half time, Pierre and I ran the perimeter of the stadium with our flag, cheering on Canada who was down 6 goals by that point.  I almost didn’t do it.  I almost gave in to my sub-conscience trying to protect me from public embarrassment.  But that run only reaffirmed my belief in sport as a medium for change and restored my faith in humanity (I warned you it was sappy).

In a place where violence, corruption, and despair hang heavy like the monsoon clouds, this event has brought life.  Strangers ran up to hug me, friends cheered us on from the crowd.  Police and firefighters smiled shyly, probably wishing they could be up in the stands with us.  Canadian moms thanked us for supporting the team, expressing how special it was to have someone cheer you on when you’re across the world.

We met Australians, cheered alongside Russians, and even donned the stars and stripes because it’s not really their fault they’re from the States.  We watched little kids run lengths of the stadium after spotting a player, sharpie in hand, accumulating autographs, and we ate hamburgers and popsicles, while helping the folks around us pronounce ham-BOOR-gare and PAP-see-col.

Now that is what sport is about.

Tonight’s final: Colombia vs. Venezuela.
Tomorrow?  World peace.