Category Archives: Sport

Sport and Drama are not so different

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I find myself, probably like many others, inspired and unusually happy by Andy Murray’s win.  We bumped into Judy (his mum) in Wimbledon a few days after he won and congratulated her like we knew her – and she received the good wishes like she knew us.  It is a heart warming paradox that such greatness (and let’s be honest, he’s worked damned hard to get this far) can make us feel proud of him like he was the man next door.  Novelist Justin Cartwright puts this paradox better than me and explains the reason for hero-worship of Sporting Greats:

‘they can do things we would like to be able to do, and we admire them precisely because of those astonishing abilities.  They are standing proxy for us; whether they are aware of it or not, we authorise them to act for us, precisely because they can do what we can’t.’

The experience of ‘everyone together’ at a great sporting event is not unlike the experience of everyone together at a great drama or musical in a theatre and we heard many times of tennis being referred to as ‘drama’, which it is, as we don’t know what is going to happen and we watch the players go through their emotions like we watch actors.  Cartwright goes on (on sport):

‘the sense of unity is an elusive thing, but it is magnificent to experience’

probably because, sadly, we don’t experience all that much unity in daily life.

Like theatre, sport is both part of the everyday, but also an experience separate from the everyday.  Like theatre, tennis in particular, is lonely – you are on court on your own – when it’s good it’s great but when it’s bad it’s the loneliest place on earth – like a stage in the theatre.  Like theatre, we see the players in a tennis game seeing angles, seeing possibilities and believing completely in what they are doing.  There is nowhere to hide and no one to talk to and in this sense, both tennis court and theatrical stage are real and unperformed – both genres are very public affairs yet where we see the most private and raw emotion.

Well done Andy – for bringing greatness into the everyday.

Murray

Super Human but still Human

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This is the moving element of these Olympics and Paralympics.  Most of us won’t win medals for living life but we can all draw from the sportsmen and women from this Summer.  Sebastian Coe touched on this in his speeches throughout the ceremonies – sport contains everything that is human – winning, losing, fighting pain, living triumph, making sacrifices and learning to love yourself as well as give a great deal to others.

Jessica Ennis on the Victory Parade on 10th September in London

The paradox is that in these athletes – from the UK and across the world, in their being super-human in their efforts and achievements, they are also simply being fully human and doing what is natural: most people crave meaning – London 2012 has provided this and at the same time brought us together in the process.

Heroes by virtue of Being Themselves

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I am of course talking about the Paralympics.  Words don’t really do justice to what took place at the Opening Ceremony, or what has taken place since.  The events and images redefine what it is to be human and any boundaries that were present, if they are still there, are only in peoples’ minds.  We have the chance to challenge preconceptions – we are asked to redefine the term ‘to win’ because these people are already winners – their medal has already been won because they have worked with the element in their body that makes what they want to achieve extremely hard, perhaps near impossible, and turned it into an enabling force of action, not a disabling force of inaction.

British athlete Richard Whitehead winning the 200 metres

The more we see of the Paralympics, the more David Bowie’s song ‘We Could Be Heroes’ becomes the suitable theme tune.  And let us not forget that many athletes have had a battle to win to even get to the UK and take part.  Their battles begin at home where it is a challenge to get funding, to train, to even get enough food – as if life is not hard enough with a disability.  The stand-alone figure of Houssein Omar Hassan from Djibouti, who came last in the 1500 metres after hurting his ankle earlier on in the race.  His motto to keep going represents millions of people who do just that.  He ran alone, clapped and cheered by 80,000 in a stadium in East London, and in him we could see, if we wanted, a world very different to the UK where any other day is not cheered; the will to live comes from the person themselves.

The sight of Hassan waving was a statement – ‘I am here, I am what I am (to echo the song in the Opening Ceremony) – don’t forget me and my country when all the races are won…the race of poverty still needs to be won.’

And I do not resent the back stories of the athletes being highlighted as some people seem to.  Let us not forget that the disablities of many many of these athletes are caused by the cruelty of man, in the name of war:

One of the atheletes from Sierra Leone lacks his left arm because it was hacked off in the civil war; there are a number of former soldiers taking part who were injured in Irag and Afghanistan…the list is sadly not exhaustive.  One of Prof Stephen Hawking’s lines from the Opening Ceremony was

‘the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge’

and I think this could not be more appropriate as we get to know these athletes through their disabilities.

Prof Stephen Hawking

The Opening Ceremony was fantastic at showcasing the arts as a way of exploring the human person and its limitless possibilities:

Our idea of ‘a dancer’ was redefined – performers, whether sports people or actors, dancers, artists can be anything – there is no framework which we fit into:

David Toole with his amazing dance routine in the Opening Ceremony

It is these super humans who give us the framework for life: there is no framework – the message of the Paralympics is be who you are – make the box fit you…not you fitting into the box.

It’s not all about the winners

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It’s dispiriting to know that UK Sport will only fund the sports in this country which are likely to produce medals in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.  What does that say other than ‘in life, you will be supported and congratulated if you are a winner.  If you try your best but are not ‘the best’, then tough.’

Anyway, how do you assess ‘the best’?  To me, being the best is being the best you can be as yourself.  The division between losing and winning is crude and dangerous – if the government are not careful, Sport will become so competative in schools that you’ll get children believing that because they don’t win, they are not worth anything.

Mo Farah has the right idea.  He’s used his high profile status to alert the UK government to the growing hunger in Africa…one winner highlighting the plight of millions in the world who are far from winning their battle.  And they cannot win because the race they have is against climate change and war – elements far greater than them.

So, before we go too far in saying how everyone can control their destiny and that hard work will pay off in the end, for many it will but Mo would be the first to say that had it not been for people around him encouraging him to be the best he could be, he would not be a winner.  Let’s get that part right first – millions of people in the world will not win their battle with life but it would be good if the governments of the world can manage a silver or gold medal in compassion, and not focus solely on those who don’t struggle.

Finding Ourselves in The Other… via The Olympics

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It’s taken me a while to sum up my thoughts about the ‘Olympic experience’ but there is something about the shapes projected throughout these Games.  They were all inclusive and made one feel embraced – apart from the fact that the Games did embrace by their very nature.  The Closing Ceremony in particular produced very welcoming, awesome shapes on Sunday night – from the towering figure of the Phoenix that hovered over the descending Flame:

….to the athletes collected within the triangles of the GB flag which lit the stadium floor:

…to the fireworks at both ceremonies which warmly embraced, and to the athletes themselves displayed on various posters:

There’s been much said about the Olympics – most of it positive and this it deserves.  It does feel as though there is a different…don’t know the word…air, over London, as if the rings and their power is within our midst.  I don’t know if that feeling will remain, but it is worth remembering that unity which embraces difference, in a variety of ways, can exist.

Boyle’s Brilliance

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I think Danny Boyle at the Opening Ceremony created a new genre – called ‘Epicality’.  He managed to show the UK with its authenticity and detail, on an epic scale.  The imagery will stay with me for a long time.

I was thrilled that he used theatre and performance as the way to communicate.  The Victorian pioneer Brunel was played by Kenneth Branagh, who in the spirit of anachronism, recited the great speech of Caliban’s from The Tempest which talks of dreams:

And it was in the spirit of dreams and imagination that Boyle got us to the truth of the event.  In the country scenes where small groups of people ‘acted out’ how life used to be, we got to know ourselves again as a nation – where we’ve been, where we are going.

The Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Martin Roth, commented that Boyle needs to be congratulated on his risk taking because risk taking is a venture into the unknown.  It is often the unknown that rewards and that takes us into a more truthful realm than the so-called known.

Akram Khan, who had a powerful dance slot during the ceremony, talks about the stage as a place for unmasking.  It is a place to be truthful, to be oneself (I note the winner of ITV’s ‘Superstar’, Ben Forster, was told by Andrew Lloyd Webber that he was a great actor but had the rare talent of being himself at the same time – a quality needed I think to make the stage, especially as the character of Jesus).

Akram Khan and his dancers

The Movement Director of the Ceremony, Tony Sedgwick, said to the volunteers ‘You must never show what you are doing, you must just BE it.’  And I think that goes for the whole event – volunteers from all walks of life came out to showcase the UK – through the genre of performance.  And that genre gave them permission to take risks which made for a very real and meaningful event.  It started the journey for all the sports women and men taking part – to take risks and be truly who you can be.

Danny Boyle should be saluted as ‘going for gold’ for the human spirit.