Why winning isn’t everything

MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day Sport Monthly column, says we live in a miracle country and it’s time we started appreciating the miracle of sport.

Sport is entertainment and it is also about effort. A fixation with just the result is going to lead to a lot of heartache.

It wasn’t that long ago when South Africa wasn’t allowed to compete internationally. Familiarity breeds contempt and irrationally so.

Feel good about the joy of indulging in the performance of South Africans, who are among the best ever produced in their respective codes.

We put huge pressure on our performers to produce every time, but the fans and the media have as much of a responsibility in their performance post match.

We also need to grow up and show some perspective to the effort of the individual or team and give credit to the quality of the opposition. There are times when they just are better and they actually win and we actually lose.

For those who are inspired to live in this country only when South Africa wins, take some responsibility for your own emotions. Similarly, don’t blame a poor SA performance for your depression. No player is losing deliberately and no national player should be subjected to the hate and vitriol published on Twitter.

It sickens me that people can actually feel a justification in the abuse and believe they are owed something by the player and that the player has a responsibility to ensure their happiness. The abuse is disgusting and can never be justified. There is so much to applaud and there is a generation of South African performer that is the best ever produced in this country. What a privilege it is to watch them at their peak.

Look beyond the need for a winning result and imagine South Africa being in sporting isolation. It is pathetic how fans think players are there to instil nationalism. Go do that yourself and start enjoying the sport and keep perspective.

There is life the next day and sport always gives your team or the individual a chance to get it right or to flop.

It is an honour to play for one’s country, but it is not a crime to lose and supporters need to take their insecurity and deal with it.

In the days of isolation we never played anyone and never lost. So we allowed ourselves to believe we were the best in everything. The reality is we are not the best in all things sport and that does not deserve the crassness I read on Twitter.

I get irritated with a lot of our sports media coverage, especially in newsprint. It is always all or nothing, as if every win defines the miracle of this country and defeat brings the possibility of doom. Inspire me with a solution instead of repeating what I saw on television 24 hours earlier and what I have read on the Internet a day earlier.

The media is more guilty than the fans in the buzz and the blowout. I have been as guilty as anyone at times of my career so I certainly don’t preach from a pedestal of purity, but rather from a place of apology.

The daily sports media though need to get a grip and invest in some perspective.

An example was the Proteas ODI series defeat against New Zealand. The Proteas did not play well but the game was apparently in crisis after the series defeat and the euphoria of being the best Test team in the world a few days earlier was an afterthought.

The hysteria was excessive, just like the condemnation and ridicule of New Zealand’s tour only a few days earlier. Appreciate the players and the fact that it’s not you out there on days when all is failing save the potency of the opponent.

There’s an added spice when you know you are watching a performer unrivalled in their field and at the peak of their performance.

The South African bowling attack gives me that sense of awe. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis evoke a similar emotion and Graeme Smith is just never going to get the reward for his effort. No other Test captain in the history of the game has achieved as much.

Smith, having gone past 100 Test matches as captain, still has his doubters. Give him a break. There is a serious projection of insecurity and delusion among many of the South African fans in the way they react to the players.

A guy like Smith must be judged on how he plays and not for how his gum chewing may irk you. It is massive what he has achieved yet there are so many who burden him with not wearing enough flags on his T-shirt and not being proudly South African.

This is sport. Nationalism looks after itself and it can’t be all taken from the player’s performance. We owe the player the simple courtesy of a dignified interaction that does not start with an attack on his mother’s hair colour and outright abuse.

Grow up you trolls or inspire with your cleverness.

Oh, and one last thing, why the obsession with having to feel the need to retire great players at the start of a season because they are supposedly blocking the path of a 21-year-old?

Give the more mature form players the necessary respect. They’ve earned the right through performance to a bit of loyalty. Our rugby players offer the promise of silverware in Super Rugby but the enjoyment must also be in the performance.

Bafana, in African soccer’s big bi-annual one, were brave and belligerent in a tournament I hoped they could win but never quite had the conviction to believe it was possible. They lost in the quarter-finals on penalties, which was a cruel yet also a dignified exit for the hosts. Dignified in it allowed us to dream of what could have been without confronting the reality of what would most likely have been had they advanced to the semi-final or final.

Bafana played with passion and the support of a nation was a boost, but there are limitations to the current side and the desire to associate with success should also not be confused with the expectation that if they don’t win a tournament they have failed.

Equally our Super Rugby teams.

– This article first appeared in the March issue of Business Day Sport Monthly, which is distributed FREE with the newspaper on the second last Friday of every month.