Post No.: 0255
You could say that this follows on from Post No.: 0249 about the psychology of basking in reflected glory…
I personally find that basking in reflected glory is problematic in sport when a country has many great individual sportspeople or sports teams yet the same country’s population is overall suffering from a (still rising) obesity crisis! Too many British and American people, for instance, live overly sedentary lives. We have many great sports stars but well over half of us are currently overweight or worse (a body mass index of ≥25, and for most of these people it’s safe to say it’s not down to muscle but fat).
Pride in a country’s sporting achievements on the global stage doesn’t seem to get enough people to want to be sporty, active and fit at all. Watching sports doesn’t translate reliably into playing even those sports. There are lots of overweight people drinking beer in sports bars, wearing the team merchandise and trainers, betting on sports and seeing sport not as an inspiration to get involved but to bask in reflection what a relatively few representatives of our city, state or wherever can do.
A few hundred people in an Olympic sports team, brilliant as they are, are just a few hundred people, even if they were to all win gold medals where possible – they do not make up the entire population of a country of millions. A squad of around a couple of dozen players winning the football World Cup won’t mean that a country of tens of millions are necessarily all great at football or its associated qualities, or vice-versa, even though that’s the implied generalisation. They typically amount to far less than 1% of a country’s population (just like Islamic terrorists only amount to a tiny fraction of all Muslims).
So a nation’s athletes can give a false impression of a nation overall, and it can highlight that the fitness of top athletes and the fitness of people at the overall general population level do not always correlate, never mind link causally. People can bask in the reflected glory of their representatives and then do nothing more for their own health and fitness. They may even scoff and quaff more of the products from the junk food and drinks brands that sponsor major sporting events, thinking that they’re healthy by association.
I’m not trying to make people feel indifferent or even miserable if their sporting representatives (wherever you live or come from) do well – but it surely must translate into each and every one of us who wants to bask in their reflected glory becoming more active and fit too, otherwise it’s completely superficial. It doesn’t matter which sport or physical activities though, whether it’s the ones we personally watch or not. Can a sedentary couch potato really associate his/her own athletic prowess with his/her compatriot’s sporting success? It’s arguably propaganda when our representatives don’t really accurately represent us at all, not even generally.
Increasing elite sports standards and increasing the exposure of a sport within a country may increase sports interest and viewership in that sport, but that won’t necessarily translate into a sustained increase in actual participation in that sport and an increase in the fitness levels of the population overall. I’m not saying that it’s not a step in the right direction but the bigger picture is the grassroots level, not the elite level. So investing in elite level sporting success is not negative because it might indeed inspire some people to take up a sport, but there are opportunity costs i.e. less money invested at the grassroots level where more people would be encouraged to get and stay active. Winning in sport is not so much a test of a nation’s genetics but its opportunities, culture, expertise, support and technology – which can all generally boil down to funding – and naturally some luck. Public playgrounds, safe green spaces, sports halls and courts and so forth for casual active play also cost money. In an ideal world we would maximise both, but where funding is limited, we should concentrate more on the ground level than ‘vanity projects’, as it were.
The question could be – would you like a country with a handful of super-fit people who can more-or-less bank wins at international competitions but mostly un-fit people, or a country with everyone being moderately fit even if no one is exceptional enough to win at the international level? One is for vanity, the other is for sanity. A lot about politics is about vanity and posturing though, but a sustainably healthy and optimally productive country requires the latter. And maybe, in the long-term, the latter can also produce winners too, hence the best of both worlds because there’s more chance of finding winners when the pool of potential talent is larger.
The glories at the elite level may feel great for a nation, and national pride can boost the generalised confidence of everybody from that nation, but it must never venture into complacency. Don’t attempt to look down at people from ‘loser countries’ as if their representatives are a fair reflection of all of them too – they might not have as many winners but they might have a far less pressing national obesity problem. Also, from an economic perspective, it’s not like, for instance, the ‘Team GB’ brand can be easily exported (e.g. it’s not like the French are going to support and buy ‘Team GB’ t-shirts and merchandise, and do we really want to export our winning expertise to our competitors anyway?!) A sense of national supremacy and hubris could also make a nation think it’s so great that it doesn’t need to cooperate with others (while forgetting that a lot of sports stars were (children of) immigrants!) Sporting success as national or racial pride has long been used or attempted as a propaganda tool since at least WWII, and throughout the Cold War.
Harping on about some long past glory or over-celebrating can also reveal how rare a success is for a particular nation – a surprising exception rather than an expected norm. Boasting is not diplomatically clever on the international stage either. The lowest thing though, is jeering at and taking pleasure in seeing other people/teams mess up in order to boost one’s self-esteem. Moreover, we gloat most for defeating our biggest threats, but this only acknowledges that they were big threats – teams that probably find winning a relatively more normal occurrence than us. So let’s always remain humble. Woof.
We can celebrate the winners, who can indeed inspire some (especially children) to try to become top athletes too. But without accessible opportunities and facilities for all and a culture that celebrates people who try their best as well as those who win, then it will not tackle the sedentary lifestyle problem – in fact, it will exacerbate the problem by creating an even wider divide between ‘those who are sporty’ and ‘those who aren’t’, where the latter feel even less confident about themselves and therefore less inclined to be simply active. If only the sporting winners are praised then those who try but fail, or think they won’t be good enough from the outset, will be demotivated. So there must be a greater provision for those who don’t wish to participate competitively i.e. a culture that is active more for fun than for winning. Besides, there can only be a few medallists and many more who won’t win anything. The overarching goal must be health before caring about pieces of metal.
Furthermore, in a lot of sports, unless you’re one of the best, then scraping a living is tough and you’ll need a second job. Those at the highest echelon get paid extraordinary amounts, but the fuller picture is that the vast majority of competitors struggle financially. Having a lot of people dedicating themselves to a sport where only a handful can ever be successful (clearly you cannot have a thousand winners in a sport – there’ll only be one or a handful, no matter how good they all may be in absolute terms) will leave a lot of people in need of financial support just to live. Being a professional sportsperson is therefore not a viable career for a majority of people in a country.
The conclusion is not to think about just the elite level but far more about the fun and accessibility of physical activities – just being active and trying new sports and games just for the furry fun of it, without the pressure of competition so young, or the pressure of deciding the path and training plan for the next 10 or 20 years for a person so young; unless a child wants to after he/she knows he/she really enjoys a particular sport. If children enjoy something too, they’ll more likely be intrinsically dedicated to it and may take it into the competitive realm – but start with the fun, not the competition. Fun will keep children (and adults) participating more than competition. Get the horse before the cart.
Some young children do like competing athletically but the vast majority do not and are actually put off by it. Anyone who has played with children knows that children like winning (and will often cheat, squabble with their peers or simply arbitrarily declare, “I won” to do so!) but where there can only be a small ratio of winners to participants, a lot of children will be put off from (continuing) participating, because rather than constantly lose, most will give up or not even partake at all. It’s great for any individual winners and ‘survival of the fittest’, but from a national perspective it’s no good. (A comparable analogy is when there aren’t enough jobs – people who compete harder might get those jobs but it’ll still leave many without jobs e.g. if there are 100 applicants for 1 job then no matter how hard (or not) the applicants compete for that job – there’ll always be 99 people without a job from a national perspective! It’s basic mathematics. The only solution is creating more jobs; although at least this is possible because we cannot create more ‘first to third places’ in sports.)
So governments better not try to be like a pushy parent who drives a child to hockey class and says, “You must play hockey and you must win because I’ve invested so much into you and this.” Give children opportunities and facilities for active play, concentrate on the enjoyment, participation and social and health benefits, not on the competition, then let them decide if they later want to take it competitively or not.
Not everyone can or will want to be an athlete yet everyone can and needs to participate in regular physical activities to live healthily – not (just) so that we’ll be good at sports but to reduce cases of preventable illness, improve productivity at work and the other benefits of being active and fit.
So in my opinion, athletic representatives who win are great, but getting rid of obesity-related problems would be an even greater achievement for a nation. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals but they evidently aren’t the same goals. I’d rather have 95% of the population be adequately active, fit and healthy with the rest sedentary (whether through their own fault or not), than have 5% be global-topping athletes with the rest being weak in health. We may somewhat bask in a fellow country member’s success for the public taxation that we’ve contributed could’ve (and likely would’ve) helped them, so credit your nation’s taxation and wealth redistribution system – but to think that their associated physical qualities will then reflect on us when we don’t take sufficient care of our own physical health would be delusional.
Furrywisepuppy cares about our actual health, not any delusions. An association with winners won’t necessarily make us winners unless we actually do what they do too…