Last weekend I mused about success in sport. Given the choice, which would you rather do, win Wimbledon or be part of a team that wins the Soccer World Cup? Kevin Anderson put in a superhuman effort but fatigue or the pressure of the Final got to him in the end. I’d love to know what would have happened if he had won one of the set points in the third as he was on the charge but it was not to be. What a marvellous speech he made in defeat. What a win by Novak.
Contrast Wimbledon with Moscow. It was a sensational high scoring World Cup Final that mixed the incredible with the bizarre and the French team, demonstrating that a diverse society can produce unified excellence, deserved their win. But how about Croatia? From the depth of a bloody and barbaric civil war as recently as 1991, they nearly went all the way on Sunday. Which is the greater achievement, team or individual success?
What is certain is that both bring untold joy and prestige to the people of the winning country. Think back to 1995 and to 2007. Think of our AFCON win in 1996. Think of Josia Thugwane and Ernie Els. Success on the sporting stage, individual or team, allows us to bask in reflected glory. Perhaps a mix of the two is the best scenario as it demonstrated that we can achieve both individually and collectively and that is what a country must do in all spheres of activity. Sport shows us what is possible. You could discuss it for ages couldn’t you?
A glance at the sports news last weekend is very interesting.
Kevin Anderson shares top spot, even in defeat, with Brandon Stone who won the Scottish Open Golf with an almost ridiculous 60 in the last round. His form has been so wretched that he was 1000 to 1 odds to win it. Five other South African golfers were in the top 23. Justin Harding won in Indonesia on the Asian Tour. Whiz-kid, Brad Binder, made his breakthrough in the Moto 2 Class with a fabulous and brave win in Germany. But, as Malcolm Gooding would say, “That’s not all!”
Look further down and drill deeper into the sports pages. At the inaugural Athletics World Cup, Sunette Viljoen, so often at odds with Athletics SA, won the Women’s Javelin and Luvo Manyonga blew away a strong field in the long jump. Each of his four leaps would have won the gold. That he has risen above a tragic past is one of the great stories of this country.
“That’s not all!” Cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, finished second overall in the prestigious and hugely competitive Giro Rosa in Italy. On a normal weekend in sport each of these would have resulted in massive interest and headline coverage. This weekend you had to dig deep. Yes, road cycling is a team sport but it has a massive individual aspect to it. The Athletics World Cup is about elite teams but, again, the participants are individuals first and foremost. The rest speak for themselves.
On a weekend when our cricketers were destroyed, our rugby teams are still way behind New Zealand and our soccer seems to be languishing in a zone where we can’t even qualify for World or Continental events, our sporting individuals have shone bright.
Why is this? A cynic might say it is harder for politicians to interfere with individuals than with team sports, but on the other hand they oft-times don’t provide the requisite funding for these individual athletes to compete on a world stage.
If you accept that sporting success is hugely important in motivating a nation’s youth and inspiring everyone to feel good about themselves then it is not just an academic question. Why can’t our current teams perform at the same level as some of our individual sporting heroes? It is an important question.