3 min read

#Duende33: Sport as story

#Duende33: Sport as story

There once was a time when I was scornful of people who watched sport. I considered it a waste of time. The battle on the field would not materially affect the world. I, vainly, thought of myself above all that.

The reality is I was not. I am not.

I softened my view on sport once I realised the role story played in the spectacle. Each season there is a narrative that unfolds, and for the fans, this can be as gripping as a Stephen King novel.

The deeper you go into a sport, keep up to date with the fitness levels of the players, or their injuries, or their growth as a player, as a team, will yield more enjoyment from the narrative journey.

Photo by Alex Korolkoff on Unsplash

Try watching any sport for the first time, and none of it will make sense. There won't be a connection to the story. During my isolation for Covid, I watched a playoff of the Stanley Cup. The arena was a sea of red and the atmosphere looked electric.

I once went to see a game of ice-hockey in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. It was a blur of action, with an endless procession of men on and off the bench and a puck too small to see.

It is a more intimate experience on television, if only because I could now see the puck. But I didn't have any sense of the occasion. They'd been an entire season, and evidently the home team hadn't been to the playoffs since Adam was a boy.

This has been the genius of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series about the Formula1 season. The sport has built in tension, with the elimination of qualifying and then the actual race. However, there is little narrative that filters out to the vast majority.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Having seen all four seasons of the show, there is a real narrative playing out. The drivers are, mostly, familiar entities: George Russell is genuinely a nice guy, Daniel Ricciardo is a larrikin and Lance Stroll is a rich, entitled arsehole.

A sport I really enjoy watching is cycling. The grand tours, three weeks of racing around Spain, France and Italy, are majestic events to watch. But it is the complexity of the narrative that fascinates me.

I am partial to the Australians racing, so I'm not just hoping for success for the Australian team. There are also different narratives occurring during each of the twenty-one stages. Races within the race. Currently, a young Australian is second overall in the Giro d'Italia, yet we (they) are still eight stages from the finish line.
This complexity of narrative appeals to me. I see it within the other sports I enjoy, namely rugby union and test match cricket.

There are two avenues I am going to explore further. One is to identify why particular sports, or the unique narratives on offer, appeal to particular regions. Many sports are trying to expand, but some of the narrative offerings don't appeal to those populations. I suspect it has something to do with culture and the nature of the sport. What I mean by this is some sports require the athletes to wear helmets, which limits the audience’s view of their eyes. This is the barrier 'Drive to Survive' could break down.

And eye contact is critical to making a human connection. One of the disconcerting elements of all this 'zooming' I have done over the last two years is the lack of actual eye contact. The other person's eyes will always be just off centre, as they watch my face, which will be some five centimetres from the camera.

The second, and I'll be writing about this next week, is how the viewing of sport contributes to our search for the meaning of life.