Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Honour Your Competitors

Yesterday was a mixture of emotions. As I watched the Canadian Women's Soccer Team lose 3-4 to Team USA, I felt sad to see the brave ladies crumble down crestfallen, heartbroken. After an amazing heartwinning performance, at the end of it all, they lost. Even after leading their opponents thrice, in the final seconds of extra time, they lost to an unfortunate goal. Having dominated the game at many angles, I can understand how many Canadians felt cheated by the questionable refereeing decisions that went against the Canadians. A heartwinning performance did not lead to a gracious response. Instead, I saw how the Canadian stars move from disappointment to anger at others. Not only have the players failed to lose graciously, they have missed out the opportunity to be role models for the rest of us, by making a positive gesture to honour their worthy opponents.

On how the USA came back three times, why blame the referee's decisions if your defense could have been better? On the delay of call infringement, why criticize the decisions that went against you when you very own goalkeeper could have remembered the rules of the tournament? Hey, you all are world class players, and world class players are expected to know the rules of the game by heart. Right? True champions never blame others. True champions win gracefully, or lose graciously. For all the positive things that the Canadian soccer team has done, I feel that they have let themselves down by being critical of the referee's decisions. What makes me sad is that they have failed to give credit where credit is due. The Americans stormed back not once by thrice. They held on for a solid 120 minutes and never gave up on seeking the winning goal. Wake up. Losing to a team that is ranked #1 in the world is no shame at all.

I rooted for Canada to win. I wanted them to win. I cheered them on. Honestly, I thought the game belonged to them. Until they allowed their emotions to get the better of them on the pitch, and outside the pitch. After the final whistle, even when the players felt they have been robbed, I think they had missed out a golden opportunity to honour their competitors.

Sports can bring out the best of the players. It can also bring out the worst. That is why it is important to remember what sportsmanship is all about. The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin famously said:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."

Sadly, this is largely missing yesterday from the Canadian team.

A) The Ugly American

Having said that about the Canadian team, I think some of the American media, reporters, and athletes are no angels either. Take the much decorated swimmer, Michael Phelps for example. In an article, "Move Over, Michael Phelps. Missy Franklin Is Our New Sweetheart," Lesley Sebek Miller criticizes Phelps for his lack of charity after losing his race to his rival, Ryan Lochte in the 400m IM swimming race. Likewise, when the Chinese sensation, Ye Shiwen happened to swim one length at a faster time than Lochte, instead of honouring the achievement, they cried foul. The media and some in the American contingent begin to suspect doping on the part of Ye. Even after Ye had been cleared of any doping charges, there was no apology. No attempt to give credit. No desire to demonstrate sportsmanship. The ugly American image had tarnished not only the spirit of the Olympics, but the reputation of American teams.

Let me maintain that these individuals are the exceptions. There are good and gracious American athletes too. Missy Franklin is one of them.

B) Our Worthy Opponents

I wrote previously that there is no point in winning when one does not have a winning mentality. The eight persons disqualified from the women's doubles badminton events, were found guilty of playing to lose in order to jostle for a more favourable pairings in the later parts of the competition. The Badminton World Federation (BWF) took the initiative to disqualify them after the unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Another event that has caught my attention is the men's Badminton singles event. After Malaysia's Lee lost the game 2-1, many people were retweeting the ESPN commentator's words that compares the two men.
"Lee Chong Wei is such a great guy, but Lin Dan is a bit arrogant. Skills win you medals, but attitude wins hearts."
While I like the comment, I feel that it is a little unfair to call Lin Dan "a bit arrogant." Every one of us have our own way of celebrating our wins. How we do it, is purely an emotional matter. We cannot judge a person simply on the basis of one moment. What is wrong to celebrate? Lin Dan deserves to celebrate. Who are we to decide how he celebrates? For that matter, remember that while Lin Dan and Lee are huge rivals on the badminton courts, they are friends outside. My point, give credit to where credit is due. Both men have won. Lin Dan has won gold. Lee Chong Wei has won silver. Together, they have won respect for the game of Badminton. Lin Dan has won honours for his country. Chong Wei has won hearts and respect for Malaysia.

Fortunately, the men's singles event has won back some respect for the competition. In an epic final, Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei battled China's Lin Dan point for point for a solid 79 minutes in a three set gold medal game. Both players gave their all. Both players sweat it out. Both players brought the best out of each other. When the brave Malaysian lost by 2 points, he broke down and cried, bringing the whole country of Malaysia crying with him. The difference is this: those were tears of joy. Many Malaysians felt that even though Chong Wei did not win gold, he won the hearts of all Malaysians. The tribute here says it all.

Fan Club of Lee Chong Wei
(Credit: www.leechongwei.com)

That is not all. The fan club of China's Lin Dan gives this brilliantly written response here.

Translated, it reads:

"Thank you very much, Lee Chong Wei, Thank you for being such a noble and worthy opponent, and thank you for 10 years of company - without Lee Chong Wei's worthiness, there will not be any Lin Dan's worthiness; without Lee Chong Wei's persistence and perseverance, there will not be any progression for Lin Dan. Lee Chong Wei missed his first Gold Medal, but he didn't fail. We felt for his cries. [SHARED/RT] When we cheer for Lin Dan's victory, please also remember Lee Chong Wei. You both are the best."

That is very well put.

At the end, the spirit of the Olympics is really not about winning or losing. It is in putting in a winning mentality that inspires not only fellow sportsmen and sportswomen, but to show the rest of the world that anything is possible. Through guts, determination, and sportsmanship, we can break world records. The only way that we can do it is when we have good solid competitors.

  • Who wants to watch a one-sided competition?
  • Who wants to see one country sweeping all the medals?
  • Who wants to see competitors hardly having to sweat it out in order to win?
The fact is this. Without competition, one will not be pushed to excel or to do better. Without worthy opponents, one cannot break world records or Olympic records. Without honouring our competitors, any win will be an embarrassment not just to the gold medalists but to the sport. 

May the Canadian womens' soccer team learn to accept defeat graciously. It is time to move on to a heartwinning performance again. Treat the bronze medal game as a championship game. For Badminton, may there be a time to see another epic badminton game again between Lin Dan and Chong Wei. The best is yet to be, as the best competition can only come from worthy opponents.

Honour your competitors, now. Give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge that you are not your best until you are pushed to do your best. Your winning is very much not a self-designed experiment.You never know when you need them to encourage you next time. World class competition needs not only world class quality and skills. It requires world class competitors. Honour your competitors, for when you honour them, every medal looks like gold. It is high time that we remind one another that the culture of "Winning is Everything" is dead wrong. Winning gracefully and losing graciously together is everything.


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