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School of sport: THE SPIRIT OF SPORT

Sean Williams

Sing it from the rooftops (or at least from the grandstands) – Zimbabwe won something recently!

Yet has it been celebrated or even announced? Have we as a nation taken delight in it? What did we win? The Rugby World Cup? Alas, no! The Cricket World Cup? No way! The African Cup of Nations?

Negative. Zimbabwe were in fact awarded the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award for 2023. So, why have we not heard about it? Why have we not celebrated it?

This publication earlier this month did a feature on Sean Williams who was part of the team that won the award, the award given for the way Zimbabwe handled the victory over the once mighty West Indies cricket team, which ultimately prevented the latter from qualifying for the main World Cup tournament.

They sportingly reached out to their opponents and commiserated with them; they “reached out their hand in support of a fellow human being”. Is that not something that we should be celebrating proudly?

It is interesting that news of the award comes at the same time that Zimbabwe Cricket appointed a commission to look into why the national team has been doing so poorly, as a result of which they failed to qualify for the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and the 2024 T20 World Cup. Some will argue that playing in these tournaments is far more important than winning a minor award for being nice and kind on the sports field; the players need to toughen up and be far more competitive.

However, the committee did not determine that playing in such a way led to the demise of the national team.

Williams himself, in downplaying any attention on himself, was recorded as saying in this publication that “We play to win, but the respect for the game will always be above everyone.”; he had in another match owned up to not hitting a ball when he was credited with having scored runs from the delivery.

"After all, cricket is not just about winning and setting records. It is a game that has respect, friendship and fair play at its very core and these are values that we as cricketers should espouse," he said.

More significantly, perhaps, he simply declared that “That is just the way we have been brought up as Zimbabweans.” We have been brought up to play the game fairly, sportingly, including those values of integrity, humility, dignity. That raises two serious questions: why have we been brought up that way and secondly, are we still bringing up our children in that way, in our school sport?

So, why then is it important? Why is a Spirit of Cricket Award given? Why do other sports not award such?

We can perhaps find part of the answer away from sport, remembering that sport is in many ways a reflection of life.

Sport teaches many life lessons while life principles should be included in sport. Many will know the statement (without knowing that it comes from the Bible) that “the letter [of the law] kills but the Spirit gives life”.

Sports people will say we must just play to the rules and to the arbiters of the rules; if you can get away with something, well and good.

Yet there is another biblical principle that applies to life that “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword”. Rules can be suffocating; they can deaden and kill a sport. Playing to the letter ultimately kills.

In contrast, playing in the spirit of the game brings life to the sport.

The spirit of the sport means we should be considering the thinking, reasoning, ethos and values behind the rules, underlying them.

Touchlines, for example, are not put there to deny us freedom but rather to show that the best place to play the game, for everyone (not just a few individuals) is actually in this particular area. Sport is for all the players. It is to be fun for all; fair for all; safe for all; purposeful for all.

At the heart of it there should be love of sport and if we love sport we must play in the spirit of sport and of life.

Sport teaches life lessons, and principles for life should be found in sport. We are to treat others well, fairly, sportingly, not just on the sports field but also in business, on the roads, wherever. So, are we still bringing up our children in this way, at home?  Are we still, as coaches, parents, spectators, schools, actively, vocally, deliberately bringing them up in this way?

Many people only think of ‘spirit’ as something alcoholic which provides a ‘high’.

The Spirit of Sport will do more than that; it will give life, and more importantly life beyond sport. That is indeed something we need to be celebrating!

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