Sore losers, ruthless tacklers and cheats are never admired, no matter how skilled they may be. We’ve all seen it: that one bloke who gets too carried away and starts mouthing off, the netballer who doesn’t understand “non-contact”, the team who lose sight of manners.
From the Greek Olympics to the Premiership, sport has always been about discipline. Success on the soil is as much about the player as it is about the play; the greatest names in history have emphasised respect, patience and selfless dedication. It isn’t always your skill that matters: playing with values will etch not only your games, but your conduct into the memory of spectators. It is character, not reward that defines a champion.
What are these values? Speaking respectfully to opponents and shaking hands before and after? Appreciating the rules and having patience? Accepting outcomes for what they are with honour and not with grudging disappointment?
We all know the importance of sportsmanship but only a brief look into the life of legends will show us that all of these boil down to two core ideals: that ultimately, we are all one family; and that a love of the game and not of winning is what breeds greatness.
Hindu Dharma teaches Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam which means that the whole world is one family. And of course, in a competition, your opponents are there to defeat you. But realising that the person stood opposite you in kabbadi, or the keeper you take aim at in netball, or even the defender that blocked your free kick…could all have been by your side as a team member had they gone to a different university makes you realise that your game should have passion but not profanity. We are all students, we are all proud of the community we represent and we all love the spirit of competition. Appreciating this unity will mean that you will naturally be gracious and admired both as an individual and as a team. Although the competition is about showing your skill, we are connected by the love of sport. So it isn’t enough to respect to your own ranks: acknowledging the fact that we are all pumped enough to travel on a Saturday morning to compete will itself intensify your competitive experience.
Hindu Dharma also teaches us to work and not worry about the outcome. We should play it because we love it, not because we crave success or fear failure. This value is essential in sport. If competition is about nothing but winning by any means, things quickly turn dark. Ugly tactics, brutal tackles and foul conduct poison the game. It is obvious that we play because we want to win, but when that’s all that matters, we forget the grace of the game. If, however, we stop caring so much about being the best, then the best within us will come pouring out. If we dedicate ourselves to our team and to playing well; if we play with passion for the game and not the trophy; if we compete out of strength and not insecurity, then the success will be earned. The Srimad Bhagavad Gita teaches us that by forgetting about the outcomes and working dutifully, we will achieve greatness. History’s greatest sportsmen have succeeded not by striving for accomplishment but by striving for perfection in their game. The accomplishment came naturally.
These two core ideals, or sanskaars – of seeing everyone as family and of playing for the sake of the game and not a trophy – are central not only to Hindu Dharma but to the philosophy of sport. It is character, not reward that defines a champion.