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That winning spirit

The ability of sport to bring people together.

Capturing the hearts and minds of the country at the moment are the Matildas, our Australian Women’s Soccer team, who have fought valiantly to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup (by the time this article is published the result of the game will be known – and fingers crossed we’ll have made the final – Edit: sadly, we did not). I’ve always made the claim that nothing brings people together like sport (and music), and here again we’re seeing an example of that, an absolute fever pitch sweeping the nation.

Everyone else: Just enjoying the moment
Me: But why is it so?

Yes, ever the eternal rational inquirer, I do my moral guide, Socrates, proud.

So, why is it the case?

  • Is it the sport (or something fundamental to sport in general)?

  • Is it the winning?

  • Is it the team (or individual)?

  • Is it the overcoming challenges/adversities?

  • Is it the amazing feats/sense of achievement?

  • Is it the pride of a nation (social/communal aspect)?

I’m sensing an element of “all of the above” being the acceptable answer.

I’ve frequently referred to sport as “civilised war” which activates the in-group, out-group bias thinking when we cheer on our team against another team. However, when it’s a country vs country example, like the FIFA World Cup, there seems to be a greater unifying, cosmological spirit that intensifies. I find that team sports have a greater tendency to intensify this feeling as into reinforces the collective and essence of unity. In a sense it’s like a harmony and synchronicity that resonates with us at a deeper level, much like a crowd at a music concert or festival.

The winning part seems a crucial element as it forms part of the overcoming challenges and sense of achievement criteria. Also, no one cheers on a loser. Whilst the Matildas may have lost their semi-final, they are not losers. Their character and dignity, and how they competed and conducted themselves this tournament subordinates the outcome in some sense. “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”, is the higher-order goal. The art of winning, the art of losing – Heroic in victory, magnanimous (not ignominious) in defeat.

Does it matter if it’s expected? There is a novelty aspect that I think people can really get behind. We like the unexpected, something or someone that comes into our consciousness and evokes such strong emotions and feelings of belonging. I mean, it can work when we’re prepared for it too, when our team is expected to do well, we can unify around that expectancy and prowess, and perhaps glory of past achievements. With novelty, there’s a sense of excitement at creating history and forging a new tradition. With expectancy, it’s more a continuation of greatness which is a stapled part of the identity.

We love seeing people triumph, individuals and teams, with teams there’s the added component of coordination and alignment, which, again, aids in bringing people together and transcending the sport. Sporting stadiums are the modern day Colosseum, and while we do not have a Caesar giving his thumb up or down to determine the combatants outcome, the masses do love rejoicing in an entertaining performance, particularly that of an underdog.

As I alluded to earlier, there’s this collective pride, their achievement is your achievement – you share in the spoils, in a way – and it reminds you what’s good about your country and life and humanity in general, and why you should cherish it.

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