Sports has the power to transform society

Gerry ChidiacWhy do so many people enjoy sports?

It could be their ability to push us beyond our limits, providing an exhilarating sense of accomplishment in overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges. While it’s true that life offers a wide array of rewarding endeavours, and not everyone is drawn to sports, it’s challenging to envision a society without some form of athletic engagement.

Anything good, however, attracts bad people seeking to gain legitimacy. Over the years, the world of sports has been marred by issues such as racism, sexism, and manipulation. We too often equate winning with succeeding in sports and have thus elevated dysfunctional people onto high pedestals.

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Sports, however, are about becoming better and tend to change and adapt, providing an opportunity for fairness and equity to thrive. A coach naturally wants to work with the best players, and fans are captivated by athletes with the greatest skill. One notable aspect of sports history is its role in promoting racial integration. By broadening the pool of potential players, sports facilitated the emergence of higher-calibre athletes on the field. This positive shift toward what is right and just has consistently driven improvement.

It is also important to note that size and strength are not the only elements of greatness in athletics. Skill, endurance, strategy, determination, and perseverance are also essential. Sports tend to drive people to be their very best, and in doing so, one must always overcome challenges and setbacks. It’s no coincidence that many books and movies depicting triumph over seemingly impossible odds revolve around the story of an athlete.

The growth in popularity of women’s team sports in recent decades serves as a testament to what can be achieved when coaches and athletes pursue constant improvement. While men may possess greater size and muscle mass, it does not necessarily translate to men’s team sports being more entertaining. As the skill level in women’s sports has increased, so has the fan base.

The most significant example of this remarkable growth was demonstrated during the 2023 Women’s World Cup in soccer this past summer. Previous records were obliterated in stadium attendance, television and online viewership, and engagement on social media. Clearly, fans weren’t solely motivated by a desire to support women’s sports; they were drawn to watch because they love to see “the beautiful game” played at its highest level of skill and teamwork.

On a personal level, I was thrilled to see Alex Chidiac, the first Chidiac in the world to achieve such a high level in professional and international sports, come off the bench for Australia to play with energy and determination. Her Matildas exceeded all expectations, not only coming in fourth place in the tournament but winning the hearts of an entire country, if not the world.

Unfortunately, this year’s World Cup was not without controversy. During the medal ceremony to honour the Spanish team’s victory, a disturbing incident unfolded, exposing the toxicity within their organization. Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s soccer federation, grabbed star midfielder Jennifer Hermoso by the head and forcibly kissed her on the lips. This has since brought to light allegations of misogyny, misconduct, and other improprieties throughout the Spanish soccer organization, including complaints about the coach of the women’s team.

What we cannot overlook, however, is that the Spanish team is now the best in the world. Despite what was going on behind the scenes, players were able to focus on the task at hand, winning a championship. The enormity of this feat cannot be underestimated.

Hermoso and her teammates exemplify all that is good about sports. Despite the efforts of people like Rubiales to diminish us, there is an innate quality within the human spirit that recognizes the greatness that lies within. Sports can give us the motivation to not only achieve our greatness but to inspire others to do the same.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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