The Magic of Sport

Sometimes we need a bit of a reminder.  The machinations of governing bodies, the cynical way the media allow them to get away with it, the frustrations of the unheard supporter.  And yet from time to time, something happens to remind us of why we love it in the first place.

I had the joy and privilege of having tickets for the Rugby World Cup this weekend.  In Brighton.  For the South Africa v Japan game.  A routine match, surely – one where the pleasure gained would be in seeing plucky underdogs giving it a go, and watching some truly great players of the game perform in front of me.  It didn’t work out like that.

Many of you won’t be rugby fans, and this blog isn’t about other sports anyway, but the relevance to every single sports fan of whatever type is that it reminds us why we watch, why we got interested in the first place.

I love rugby, I always have.  I was there for England’s ridiculous 55-35 win over France as they did everything they could to snatch the title from Ireland, and that was wonderful.  But it was for a given value of wonder, and non-rugby fans wouldn’t have given two hoots.  Where yesterday differed was that it was an example of where a sport, not one that is always in the wider public consciousness, grabbed the attention of many more.

ITV reported that they had 4.5 million viewers by the conclusion of the epic events yesterday evening, as word got around that something remarkable was happening.  It’s an astounding number for a game that didn’t involve a home nation, and yet another illustration of the power of free to air television. Within the stadium, the fervour grew ever greater, as Japan time and again fought back from behind.  The moment they crossed the try line in the fourth minute of overtime the place exploded, as 29,000 people (less a few South Africans) decided that at that moment they were all honorary Japanese.

Now, World Cup tickets in this tournament are outrageously expensive, and anecdotally a lot of rugby fans have decided not to bother in protest at the gouging that is going on – though since it’s pretty much sold out, the governing bodies won’t care.  Equally, many of the grounds decided to increase the price of food and drink, to extract a little bit more from the matchgoing fan – although at the Amex Brighton Community Stadium (sponsorship rules again) the service was so woefully slow – rugby fans wanted beer, who’d have thought? – that it probably cost them thousands in lost business anyway.  Yet again, avarice amongst organisers is a prime motivation.

But sport has a delightful habit of doing the unexpected.  Japan’s victory yesterday, along with Georgia’s earlier in the day, was duly celebrated by fans across the world, the huge upset(s) giving life to the tournament, and enormous pleasure beyond the game.  And yet here’s the thing, Ireland beating England in the Cricket World Cup was just the same, one of those moments that even if it’s your own team you have to appreciate the wider importance of outsiders coming through and beating the elite.  The difference is that World Rugby (as the IRB have rather pompously renamed themselves) will be utterly delighted, the game’s popularity will receive an additional boost, there will be kids in Tokyo and Tblisi throwing a rugby ball around this morning.

What rugby won’t do in response is to decide the likes of Japan and Georgia shouldn’t be in future tournaments, or that South Africa’s defeat is a disaster for the game where their current plight of potentially not qualifying for the quarter finals needs to be prevented from happening again.  The international body managing rugby is a mile away from being a force for unmitigated good in the game, they receive (rightly) lots of criticism for failing to support the growth of the game outside its heartlands adequately, and the big nations are pretty grasping too.  But they also know that to expand the game you need moments like yesterday.  Indeed, Japan are the next hosts of the World Cup in 2019, a scenario it’s impossible to imagine cricket contemplating.

Yesterday was amazing.  When Japan crossed the try line having eschewed the chance to take the draw with a kick at goal in favour of going for the win, that deep emotion you can feel from wonderful sporting theatre went through my whole body.  There’s not a thing that can beat it, despite the attempts by those in power to take it away from us.

The sheer joy (and disbelief) on the faces of Japanese supporters outside the ground is a memory that will stay with me.  The stories of such things as Springbok fans forming a guard of honour for their Japanese counterparts at the ticket barriers at Victoria station remind us all that we, those who care, are what make the sport special, for without us, there is no game.

I had to re-watch the highlights this morning to check it really happened.  It did.  And it was absolutely bloody marvellous.  Cricket considers this a bad thing.  Think about that.


13 thoughts on “The Magic of Sport

  1. Burly Sep 20, 2015 / 11:56 am

    Yeah, it was a genuine triumph – a small team producing a performance worthy of the big sides and having the cojones not to settle for a draw. The support for them was incredible, too.

    This is the Cardiff fan zone on the final whistle:

    And this is how the SA fans reacted to the Japan fans on the way back:

    Note that in the RWC, teams that finish 3rd in their group automatically qualify for the next world cup.

    Liked by 1 person

    • d'Arthez Sep 20, 2015 / 2:28 pm

      Note that in Cricket World Cups, teams automatically qualify if they produce sufficient grease to make it worthwhile (with the possible exception of Zimbabwe. The alternatives are not that financially appealing: Ireland are not an economic powerhouse, Afghanistan is still in ruins, and cricket by participation numbers barely makes it to the top 40 sports in the Netherlands, so rights have almost no value at all; Zimbabwe is lucky that cricket is not that huge in another economic powerhouse, such as say Japan, China, or Brazil). That is called “Meritocracy”.

      Whether or not they have performed abysmally for 20 years straight does not matter one iota. Case in point, England. The 1999 fiasco, where England were eliminated almost immediately. The 2011 fiasco, which included a 10-wicket loss in the first knockout game that they played. The abject humiliations that England inflicted upon itself a measly 4 times in 6 games. This reward for proven brilliance in abysmal performance is called “Meritocracy”.

      Theoretically, Ireland could be the best ODI side in the world, and they still have to qualify. For West Indies / Bangladesh / Zimbabwe / England (and all other Full Members), they only have to be less terrible than two other Full Member nations, and they’re in. It is called “Meritocracy”.

      Good governance methods in the ICC? It is better to take the word of Giles Clarke, or Srini for it. After all, both have been experts at hanging out with corrupt people, engaging in corruption, or merely spending time with suspected war criminals, so they know everything about good governance. It is a “Meritocracy” when you blindly rely on the self-interested “opinions and considerations” of your “betters”, rather than you know, actual facts.

      Cook’s sole merit to be England captain seems to be the jawline he has, due to an accident of genetics. That jawline must surely mean that no one else could have done a better job. After all, did he not succeed in making all and sundry surrender, honourably, when they took to the field, so overawed were they by his jawline?

      Day 4 at Headingley did not happen in 2014. It did not happen in 2015. Mentions of this South African-born batsmen have to be erased from all living memories, for his only merit is that he was a treason-loving traitor (who incidentally won England a World Cup, but let’s just pretend it was all down to Collingwood). All those references have to be erased, so that we can live in the bubble that this is the best England side ever, have conquered all before them, and will do so indefinitely (provided that only Tests that England actually win count). That is the meritocracy that the English MSM have been bleating about like a stuck record.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark Sep 20, 2015 / 4:23 pm

    What a fantastic day out for you. I bet you didn’t expect that when you bought the tickets!

    The trouble with modern sport is that like big business they don’t want too many upsets. The pompusly named Champions league has been turned into a rent extraction model for the fans. They have at least now only got one group stage. Remember, the big teams want two group stages so as to gouge their fans for ever more money.

    The idea of knock out matches is frowned upon. The big sides don’t like it. They might lose. Much better to play lots of matches to insure that a one off bad performance can be air brushed out. Although International rugby will be happy with yesterday, I bet they still want SA to qualify. They don’t want too many big teams knocked out.

    The 3 English football clubs who have won the Champions league….. Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool would not have won under the old European cup rules because they didn’t win the league the year before to have qualified. I remember Berlisoconi the owner of Inter Milan saying in the late 80s that Milan should be in the European cup every year regardless of where they finish in the league. It was a precursor of what was to come. Ask Arsenal fans who now are told finishing 4 th is the same as winning a trophy.

    So even though it was just a group stage it was wonderful to see a huge upset. And on free to air TV. How many millions saw Englands live Ashes this year? Not one million I bet. So much for all the eulogising by Brenkley about glorious summers. It was so glorious and exclusive that hardly anybody watched it.


  3. hatmallet Sep 21, 2015 / 5:17 pm

    The Magic of Sport, the Genius of Sport

    Not as bad as recent offering. Could still have been written in about a third of the space though.

    Oddly though, he spends the first half asking why X, Y and Z aren’t considered geniuses, then later says that too many sportsmen are called geniuses.


    • Zephirine Sep 22, 2015 / 11:26 am

      He doesn’t construct his articles very well, though perhaps they’re originally much longer and the subs slice them down. But it had some interesting thoughts, I like the Schopenhauer quote.

      My immediate thought was, how sad to be a genius at sport because you have to stop. A composer or a painter can go on practising their art till they die and most do, but genius athletes have to live the second half of their lives like ordinary people.

      Though I believe something similar happens in mathematics, after a quite young age you just don’t lead the field any more.


      • hatmallet Sep 22, 2015 / 1:56 pm

        Yes, I liked that quote too. The concept of the article is fine and there were some good thoughts, but I get losing track of where he was going.


  4. keyserchris Sep 22, 2015 / 6:50 pm

    I was at Tonga v Georgia earlier in the day, which was hugely entertaining. Until the SA – Japan game… Never seen such unalloyed joy all over for a (completely deserve) result.

    Been thinking this for a while, but I have followed rugby & cricket these last few years, playing and watching. The money in football left me behind a long time ago, but still watch if it’s on in the pub. I have been a member of my local cricket & rugby clubs for 15+ years, and the difference in inclusivity, as extended by the governing bodies, is vast. My. Rocket club has no link at all or the ECB. They may as well not exist to us.

    On the contrary you cannot move at my local rugby club for RFU posters, or other branded stuff heralding their involvement in assorted club/community rugby programs. As a member, we have allocations to internationals at Twickenham, which means I can get tickets to there 8 out of 10 times. I had priority allocations to RWC tickets 18 months ago, and have tickets to 6 games, plus ticket discounts for the nearby premiership rugby teams. The prices in the cheap seats now come in lower than many cricket games. We also have a sense of community too with social events in the club as well. And the club is as far removed from the “posh” image as you’d expect. Whole families go, and feel connected all the way through to the England team at the very top. All this for £60 a year.

    The equivalent price in cricket gets me membership to my local club, to play. That’s it. No slight on my village side, full of great people & the cricket is mostly enjoyable. But it’s only for our village. To go to Tests/ODIs is not guaranteed. Costs me 190 extra a year for Surrey membership, for a max of 8 Test tickets per year.

    All this explains why I do one or two Test days a year, compared to 5 international, 3 European & 8 Premiership rugby games in the last 12 months. Cricket is slowly driving me away in this country, and I struggle more and more to muster disappointment. I’d rather save up & go abroad for a Test series these days. More authentic experience, even in Australia.


    • BoerInAustria Oct 3, 2015 / 5:36 am

      Georgia Vs NZ. Brilliant game, lovely to watch.

      “I was very pleased with the way we played,” said the Georgia coach, Milton Haig. “If we are to develop, we need greater exposure. Look how Argentina have come on since they joined the Rugby Championship. We would love the opportunity to be part of the Six Nations and I hope it is something that is considered.”

      If Georgia is 3rd in their group, they will automatically qualify for the next WC in Japan. That means they can build depth in the qualifiers without the pressure of “must win” games. And some of these guys are playing professionally in Russia!

      That is called growing the game….


    • LordCanisLupus Sep 26, 2015 / 11:01 pm

      Some really good ones. Think a couple had been readjusted using fancy software….


  5. d'Arthez Sep 27, 2015 / 12:14 pm

    Speaking of magic, it has been reported that Frank Tyson passed away at the age of 85. One of the best quicks England (with a sub-20 average!) have ever produced. I have not seen any footage of him, but by all accounts, he was someone you’d rather not face.

    Rest in Peace.


  6. Ian Sep 28, 2015 / 10:43 am

    Add my opinions on the rugby too. Again admit I don’t know a huge amount of rugby. The Lancaster tinkering with the XV reminded me of Moores tinkering with the batting order just before the world cup.

    Also is it my imagination but are England Rugby captains appointed on basis of how they look and how marketable they are rather than being best man for the job? I just can think of quite a lot of England rugby captains doing adverts.


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