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Day 24

Ok, time for a controversial topic. Being from New Zealand and having lived in Australia, sports are very close to my heart! Pun intended. I love sport! I love watching it, I love playing it, and on occasions, I’ll have a good old rugby yarn with my old man! When I was younger, I played every sport that I could. Rugby, soccer, hockey, basketball, tennis, squash, cricket, just to name a few. I love to chase a ball. It is a type of instinct for me. It is also my meditation! The time where the whole world drops away and the present moment is all that matters!

I am living in South America. The religion that is football dominates all! There are a few things that I don’t like about this sport. The diving, the yelling at the referee, the babies spitting their dummy when a call doesn’t go their way. It provides a good spectacle and I can understand that is has become part of the game. The problem is that I work with young Argentine boys and see the bad side of what that environment creates. I can see the alfa male, the aggression, the short temper, and all of the negative side effects that young boys’ heroes are creating.

We had to ban football in the project. That was a very sad day for me! Having to say to a group of young South American boys that you have to take their football away is no easy task. They would rather you cut their arms off before you took the football away from them! Luckily, they are taking to basketball. Especially with the nice hoops and the new balls that we have. There are a few boys that just couldn’t control themselves. They would literally turn into little monsters. Flaring their teeth, hissing, growling, shouting and fighting. Food for Thought is a safer place without football. 

In saying that, I am a male and I know what it is like to play sport. I’m not saying it isn’t the same for females, but I can only speak from a male perspective. It is like a drug, especially if there is physical contact. In one way it is an outlet for pent-up anger. You can let off the steam that has been building up inside that in most circumstances, has no other outlet. Our challenge at Food for Thought is finding alternative ways to channel that energy! 

The soccer stars are supernatural beings to these young boys. They are the pinnacle of success in this world. If you make it to play for a big club, then you are placed on a pedestal above everyone else. Just have a look at Diego Maradona. He is untouchable, even though he cheated, took drugs - on and off the field, assaulted his partner, and endless other undesirables. He also grew up in a slum which makes him even more of a god in this country. If you were to look up role-model in the dictionary, you would be hard pushed to find any of those characteristics that he possesses. (luckily there are not many Argentines who read this blog so I won’t be deported from the country)

The big problem that I have with sport that doesn’t just happen in soccer is competition. You say what? Hold on a minute… before all you testosterone filled apes get carried away and start yelling and banging the computer… I am yet to completely resolve this problem that is doing cartwheels in my head. You can’t get rid of competition because otherwise there would be no tournaments, just people running up and down fields, throwing balls around! It is also one of the reasons that I love sport. The competition part of sport is what makes my heart beat faster, my little chicken legs run faster, and what sends messages to my brain saying “this feels fricken amazing”. 

I think it is another “not what but how issue”. It isn’t the competition itself, but the type of competitiveness that creates problems off the sports field. There is a saying “what happens on the field stays on the field” but being the emotional creatures that we are, it doesn’t always happen that way. I remember an off the field scuffle that almost came to blows after a high school rugby match that I played in. It involved the two teams and various parents of players who didn’t seem to agree about what happened on the pitch. I see young kids being forced by their parents into putting more effort, time and energy into the sport than the child is interested in. I see the parents wanting it more than the kids. I also see kids not understanding that at the end of the day the game doesn’t affect their lives when it is finished. Unless it involves professional sport but that is another issue.

In New Zealand, we have always been encouraged to play fair. Kids just do it naturally. The problems (not just in NZ) seem to arise when adults get involved. We make a mess of what is normally fun and games. It is also how we behave watching sports on TV. Attitudes of competitiveness in business and other areas of life that leak onto the plates of our kids. It is the football stars on TV. It is the seriousness that we place on games. Game in the dictionary means ’an activity that one engages in for amusement or fun’. Sometimes it just means too much to us! I am also guilty of these crimes. It is hard not to when your favourite team is the All Blacks. 

So, don’t worry dad. I’m not going to stop loving that beautiful game. I’m also not going to start a campaign to take competitiveness out of sports. What I am going to do is play basketball with the kids until we can find a way to play football nicely. I am also going to stand against the macho attitudes that are created within and around sporting culture. I am also going to promote amusement and fun in sports. I am also going to continue saying bad things about Argentina’s football hero, but only when there are no Argentines around to hear me!