Tag Archive: sport


At what price glory?

AMDG

 

English: Picture of Marco Pantani on the way t...

Marco Pantani –  Alpe d’Huez 1997 (Wikipedia)

 

The summer before I entered the Jesuit novitiate, I hired a van with a group of friends and we drove around France for two weeks following  the Tour de France through the Alps and the Pyrenees. It was a magical summer, we would arrive on these incredible mountain passes the night before the stage, just before they closed the roads off.  The night was spent partying with Spanish / French / Dutch etc cycling fans and then the next day the excitement would build as the race approached.  These men were the greatest athletes in my opinion, in the most gruelling sporting event on the planet.  The crowds on the big climbs would number in the hundreds of thousands, and because of the steep incline of the climbs, the exhausted cyclists, strung out in little groups – would pass by at a much slower pace than on the flat or downhill parts.  If I close my eyes the one image that sums up that summer was seeing Marco Pantani leading the peloton over Les Deux Alps.  One of the greatest climbers of all time – he would dance on his pedals and soar through the mountains like an angel.

 

Six years later he died of a cocaine overdose in a grotty hotel in Rimini, Italy.  I have just finished reading a gripping book about his life, called, ironically, ‘The Death of Marco Pantani‘ .  The life and death of Marco Pantini could be a parable for our times.  As modern sport has become more important politically and commercially the consequences of success and failure have been blown out of proportion. Cheating in sport has been around since ancient times, however it was in East Germany and its notorious Programme 1425 that lead to thousands of uniformed youngsters being given steroids, when cheating became systematic. In Finland they developed the technique of using blood transfusions in sport – which required access to labs, medical expertise and much larger budgets.  What is shocking is the risks these cyclists took, the strain of the heart pumping thickened blood, meant that many cyclists had to sleep with heart monitors which would set off an alarm when their heart beats dropped below safe levels. Following the Tour in 98 there were rumours of groups of cyclists jumping out of bed in the dead hours of the morning to leap on exercises bikes to get their hearts pumping again.  Tragically at  the end of the book, in the epilogue, there is a list of 8 cyclists who died of sudden heart attacks between 2003-5.  So the current insistence of Team Sky to be clean, and the scandal of Lance Armstrong’s cheating and bullying are so important.

Worryingly as sport becomes more important – maybe as a symptom of a society that is losing balance – Sports stars are prepared to risk everything for that moment of glory.  St Ignatius calls this lack of balance a ‘disordered attachment’.   Alarmingly, with the rise of Paralympics, the spectre has been raised of athletes deliberately dismembering themselves in order to compete.  Especially with the controversy around Oscar Pistorius and others ‘blades’, as technology continues to improve soon blades will be superior to the leg, at least on the 100m’s track. When a ‘disabled’ sprinter starts to break Usain Bolt’s World Records – then there will be irresistible pressure to lose your legs just to compete…..  No wonder the Spiritual Masters consistently warn us against disordered attachments to fame and glory.

 

Beautiful Imperfection

AMDG

In a world that is driven by the cult of the beautiful there are many reasons to be amazed and excited about the unprecedented attention given to the Paralympics. We are so often bombarded by aspirational images and messages of unobtainable perfection, it is amazing to see images of swimmer Ellie Simmonds who was born with achondroplasia or ‘dwarfism’ where there where would normally be photoshopped models. I am visiting London at the moment, and had a spare couple of hours yesterday to visit the Olympic Park (although I couldn’t get in!) and snapped this picture. The closer you got – the more the enthusiasm and positivity of the crowd grew, the enthusiasm and good will was infectious. My sister took her young daughters to an unforgettable night at the Olympic Stadium the other night and told me they will never forget seeing an athlete with no hands cartwheel in joy on to the podium to receive their gold medal. What an experience for a young mind to savour!

The medal table currently has China way out in front with Great Britain edging second place in front of Russia. It has to be a good thing for disabled people in both China and Russia that the Paralympics is taken so seriously in their countries. China’s cruel one child policy and infanticide can only be challenged by embracing this festival of imperfection. Hopefully here in Britain, where children can be aborted up to birth if there is any proof of ‘abnormality’ e.g a cleft lip, the Paralympics may lead to a change in culture to. It would be wonderful to see some of the Paralympic superstars speak out on this. Why do the Americans not seem that interested? It is not being shown on US TV, and they are only sixth in the medal table. Strange? Maybe it is in the US where the cult of perfection is most virulently propagated. Ultimately this is a festival of hope – that our brokeness can be beautiful, and our weakness can be turned into strength most powerfully through the grace of love and support. This hope is brilliantly expressed through this Canadian Advert.

 

AMDG

What a difference a month makes, Andy Murray on the same court against the same opponent seemed to be a different person yesterday.  It has been called the fastest redemption story in sport. Murray, often seen as moody, has been smiling, having fun and playing with a freedom and a ‘lightness’ that he didn’t seem to have at the Wimbledon tournament. He has clearly thrived over the past week  not being such a focus for national attention as during the Wimbledon fortnight. Being part of a team and being inspired by others – he has said he is so glad to be part of Team GB and is motivated by the other athletes. What is the difference? I think it is that he was not just playing for himself but for something bigger than him.   It reminds me of that beautiful line in EP 4 ‘And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him‘ .  It is also beautiful – that in a sport, with huge amounts of money, pressure, were everything is oriented to the individual with a huge entourage around them – it is the Olympics, with no direct monetary award, and where Murray is one of many great British athletes…. it is this environment that has brought the best out of him.

Ignatius describes the phenomenon of spiritual consolation in a similar way – anything that opens us to the world, fills us with peace, joy, freedom – allows us to fulfill our potential can be a sign of consolation. When we are basically focused on something greater than ourselves.  The opposite, desolation, leads us in on ourselves, to self doubt, apathy, cynicism.  This is speaking very generally of course and in the spiritual life consolation and desolation can be much more subtle than that (i.e. If an evil tyrant had self doubt it might be a path to consolation!)  Ignatius talks about consolation in a much more focused and religious way – here are his words:

“ I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.”

Whereas desolation leads to “ the opposite of (consolation), as darkness of soul, torment of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love.  The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,438 other followers