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Santiago Álvarez de Mon, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

The two faces of sport

Wed, 24 Feb 2010 09:10:24 +0000 Published in Expansion (Madrid)

Through family tradition, school environment and circle of friends, I have always liked sports. As a practitioner, it is a fun and demanding school that fosters the cultivation of important skills and values for life. The work teamwork, the sense of companionship, patience and perseverance to automate a certain technique, the finding of natural talents find in sport a way of expression and joy. The victory-defeat alternative, inherent to competition, teaches you to lose with dignity, to get up when you have fallen, to win with elegance and humility, to assume your responsibility, to manage your loneliness. The toughest matches show your potential, your ability to stretch your pain threshold, your mental fortitude to stay focused on the process without obsessing about result. After a good, muscle-wracked contest, when you emerge from the restorative shower, the same problems and challenges are seen with a sharper, more optimistic eye. As a spectator, one can only celebrate spectacular years. Individual geniuses, always present in our history - Santana, Ángel Nieto, Ballesteros, Induráin, Nadal, Gasol, Alonso... - have been joined by gratifying successes in team sports.

While the wealth of learning and pleasure that sport can bring is immense, I am concerned about the drift it has been taking lately in our country. As a practicing father, a mix of chauffeur, trainer and masseur, I hallucinate with some family scenes. Spoiled kids who adulterate the essence of a playful and noble activity, and parents who project their frustrations and dreams on unnecessarily pressured children are commonplace on courts and fields destined for something else! What can we say about the professional field! I still remember a trip to Bilbao with my father, I was 12 years old. We saw an unforgettable Athleti-Real Madrid match. Impressive atmosphere, British style chants, exquisite sportsmanship, the least important thing was that my team of my soul lost. As an adult, my mind travels to the Nou Camp. Madrid won 0-2, I'm watching the blue and white coliseum applauding Cuningham, that colored player. Closer in the tunnel of time, I was at the Bernabéu when it stood up to applaud the jewel of Ronaldinho's third goal. I have enjoyed it when Xavi or Iniesta have been treated as what they are, healthy young men and extraordinary sportsmen. Unfortunately, this is not the usual trend. Sport is starting to become a hotbed of toxic emotions and aggressive feelings. The chants and symbols of the most radicals infect the masses, transforming a stadium into a cauldron of phobias and insults. Recently, I observed the reactions that Cristiano Ronaldo can arouse. A multimillionaire, a multimillionaire, histrionic in his gestures, I understand that his opponents do not applaud him, but from there to visceral hatred, average is a long way. Sometimes, in Spain, the sporting contest seems like a battlefield between Muslims and Israelis, where rage and anger are the order of the day. Sad was the spectacle of the other day's basketball final. Instead of a party conducive to twinning and healthy rivalry, it deteriorated into a case of incivism and bad Education. Few leaders like Mandela have used the potential of sport as a bridge-building ambassador. In Human Factor, a timely book, John Carlin describes his ordeal. "He did not want to crush his enemies. He didn't want to humiliate them. He didn't want to pay them back in kind. He just wanted to be treated with respect." A visionary leader, a generous statesman, he imagines sport as the ideal gymnasium for his therapeutic work as a social surgeon. Deep wounds, old scars, need physical and mental exercise to heal a country torn in two. That is my dream. Without pretending to transform sport into a concert of classical music, we impoverish ourselves when it becomes the theater of our prejudices and baser passions. The political class can obtain certain profits, so they keep us distracted. Also the media, the audiences increase by throwing fodder to the hungry crowd. However, society loses by a landslide. It is not a time for parasitic, violent and ignorant hooligans, but rather for well-read, hard-working and sweaty citizens, win or lose.