I’ve talked about how food is the “Great Unifier,” and it is, but a close second to that is sport. What other activity can unite and tear apart groups of people with such ferocity?
Canadian hockey fans rioted in the streets after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in 2011; in Brussels in 1985, 39 people were killed at the Juventus-Liverpool match, and there are countless other incidents where supporters have gotten out of hand -they don’t call them “football hooligans” for the hell of it. But, there are also stories where sport united a divided culture, like the 1995 World Cup where host nation South Africa were crowned champions and Nelson Mandela shook Francois Pienaar hand, a symbol of a once divided nation coming together to win.
One of my tricks for talking to people, whether it’s while working a bar or just jazzing up normal conversation, is breaching the topic of sport. It’s my security blanket, but it works. Mention one current headline and people will go wild and run with it. In the states, I can spark a conversation by stating, “So, is Tebow done for good or will he get another shot?” or in Oz by saying, “It’s a shame about the Wallabies loss.”
Like food, sport is a common denominator where a language barrier is allowed. I can still enjoy a footy match with a crowd that could not understand a word of what I said, and that is the greatest part of it. Cheering is cheering, and booing is booing… and you are all silent when your team loses.
Some of my best, and most heartbreaking moments (ahem, Feb. 2009) involve sport. One of the great parts of being a supporter is you will go and cheer just as loud for your baby brother’s high school football team as you will for your country’s 7’s team taking on powerhouse New Zealand in an international tournament.
It’s also funny how fans of two seemingly similar games- rugby union and rugby league- could be so staunchly opposed. League -as it oft referred to- is known by supporters as “The Greatest Game in the World.” A slogan held with such high regard that when NRL executive, Dave Smith, was asked how he would persuade rising star Isreal “Izzy” Falou back to League from his Union fame, his one-line response was simply, “it’s the greatest game in the world.” (Source) Well, here’s a news blurb for you Smith, “The Greatest Game in the World” doesn’t have a World Cup to encourage players to stay (or come back).
Purest will tell you League has always been about money and Union is about the love of the game. Keep in mind a sports star is only as good as his/her last game (in Falou’s case, pretty damn good) and there’s no guarantee for a contract renewal or money when you’re injured. So if a player is forced to pick where to play, based on a potential earning, said player is likely to pick where the money is… although Falou has reportedly stated he’s staying with the Union code, for now.
Now I’m just ranting about sport, but that’s the perfect example of why sport is arguably the world’s greatest (or second greatest) unifier. Spark one headline and you’ll get an earful.
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