There are many, often arty people, who don’t get sports. That’s okay. I don’t get videogames and barbeques. But don’t knock what you don’t get (by which I mean understand). It surprises me when arty people ask “what’s the big deal about sports” because they are so often at the receiving end of that very question except “sports” is replaced by “arts”. I am not surprised that they might find sports not their cup of tea but I am surprised that they don’t get what sports is about. Because sports and art are very similar. My simplest definition of what art is is the Russian formalist one. Art makes the stone stony. A more complicated one would be that art tells us something about the human condition in a way that is lasting and true and sometimes (but not always) beautiful.
Sports does the same. Sports is about pushing yourself to the limit of a skill (yes, even just throwing a ball) and the triumph and failure of that process. It has also the essential dramatic elements – pathos, comedy, love, pride, tragedy and a good dose of luck to keep things interested. That’s why the greatest sporting moments are not always about who wins. They are about a father racing onto the track to cradle his son who just snapped his achiles and to carrying him to the finishing line, about a rower stopping to let a brood of ducks go by and still winning. I didn’t actually remember if he won. I remembered that he stopped.
The difference between sport and most art is that in sport one uses one’s own body as the medium. Thus, one’s own physical prowess become the artistic endeavour and the conveyor of the message. The tensile strength of a gymnast’s body might be very different from the bulk of a weightlifter but at the very end, the message is the same – I can, I will and everything that goes in between.