Alan Braunholtz: The Euro way of sports worship
Vail, CO Colorado
Wimbledon is a big deal in England. A genteel suburb, strawberries and cream and grass, the perfect surface for a country that appears as only various shades of green from a blurred train window. Tennis also matches the British desire for tradition and modesty in almost all their heroes. Brash braggadocio is not a good way to endear yourself to the British public; instead it’s best to let your skills do the talking for you.
Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are perfect examples of this. Despite both being a level above any other player, neither ever belittles nor takes any opponent for granted. If any parent ever wanted an example of sportsmanship in either victory or defeat, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than the actions and interviews of these two after their Wimbledon final.
Hopefully their rivalry will continue to grow, as great sportsmen need a great rival. Fate blessed Ali with Frazier and Foreman, without which he couldn’t have risen to the legend he is. I don’t know who will play which role, but they are lucky to have each other. Tiger Woods needs a rival, as he is even better when challenged. His legend grew when he overcame a true challenge and injury at the U.S. Open. He’d probably relish a few more victories (and inevitable losses) when pushed to the limit.
A family celebration took me to England right in the middle of the European 2008 soccer championships and the start of Wimbledon. There is no better way than sports to break the ice with diverse family groups. Lazy summer days of gardens, sandwiches and teas broken up by a large menu of tennis and soccer. Quite nostalgic, really.
I’d forgotten how good tennis is as a spectator sport. I can’t think of any other sport where only two people on a small square can keep you entertained for up to five hours. Few athletes are fit enough to perform at their peak for five hours. Gayle, who tends to watch sports while working out in gyms, gave out after three hours on Stairmasters and fitness bikes with renewed admiration. Tennis players deserve all the prize money they get ” compared to the expense of a basketball or football team and facilities, they’re a bargain.
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Britain also had a Scotsman who did well – the English become British when they need to – and it’s always fun to jump on the nationalistic bandwagon for a while ” especially in sports, which don’t really matter. Sporting events seem to be the main time when European countries find their outspoken flag-waving nationalism. Unlike the U.S., no one has a flagpole in their yard and few if any salute the flag and pledge allegiance to it everyday; this would seem weird to them. Yes, most are proud of their country and defensive if criticized by outsiders, but they don’t see the need to ritually express it every day.
European soccer shows this too, but it’s changing a little over the years. The fans do go bonkers draped in flags and covered in body paint, but global immigration has had an effect. Almost all teams now have players from other countries who are now nationalized citizens. These players are often the stars of a team and, if lucky, can end up as heroes of their adopted nation. This makes racial or cultural prejudice much harder for those nationalistic bigots out there. It’s not too large a mental step to extrapolate from the help given your national sports team to the help given your economy by new citizens.
Also with all the movement of labor within Europe, countries are starting to understand each other a little better. Germany, while overjoyed at its (undeserved) victory over Turkey in the semi-finals, went out of its way to compliment Turkey on its performance and generally showed respect. The reason is there are a lot of Turkish workers in Germany, and it’s now bad form to pretend they or the services they perform don’t exist or matter.
My Wimbledon honeymoon vanished on return to the U.S. Despite an all-U.S. women’s final, I couldn’t find any evening coverage after work. Instead, the ìsportsî channels covered poker, XBox video football challenges and speed-eating events. None of these have anything to do with sports, with eating being almost an anti-sport.
Sports can cross barriers from family gatherings to international relations. It’s a great way of getting to know and respect other people, but you have to care about global sports for it to work globally. When XBox video game fake reality shows trump real athletes, it’s frustrating.