The rhythm of fair play

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by Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

The 20th edition of the Fifa World Cup is in full swing. For the second time in its history, Brazil is playing host to this highly-famed international men’s football tournament.

Thirty-one national teams are taking part in this prestigious-month-long competition, which will reach its climax in the grand final match at the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho of Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.

The catchy official motto of the tournament says much about the idiosyncratic nature of the Brazilian culture: all in one rhythm.

What is exactly meant by this interesting slogan? According to Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, “the official slogan is the result of a joint effort between Brazil and the world of football to find a unifying message which represents the unique flavour that Brazil will bring to the Fifa World Cup. Based around the central idea of ‘rhythm’, it will unite fans in Brazil and abroad around what will be a colourful and vibrant celebration set to a uniquely Brazilian rhythm.”

But by rhythm are we just limiting ourselves to various Brazilian music styles, influenced as they are by African, European and Amerindian forms? Are we simply talking about samba or any Brazilian version of foreign musical genres, such as Brazilian rock and rap?

The rhythm which, hopefully, will be accompanying the World Cup matches is surely that of fair play. What this normally means is a number of values that make both sport and everyday life more credible.

Values like respect, friendship, team spirit, fair competition, sport devoid of doping, respect for written and unwritten rules such as equality, integrity, solidarity, tolerance, care, excellence and joy, are the basis of fair play. They are values that can be learnt and put into practice both on and off the soccer pitch.

Every serious footballer respects both the written and unwritten rules. He holds in high regard respect for opponents, fellow players, referees and his national team fans.

A truly competitive spirit transforms rivalries into sincere friendships. Noble rivalry, while regarding the opponent as a friend, inculcates a team spirit within one’s squad.

By themselves, individual football stars cannot realise their God-given talent. They direly need the cooperation of fellow players. Thus, a glorious victory is achieved when it is the joint effort of every team member.

The sweetness of victory can really be cherished with the dignity it certainly merits if it comes about through absolutely just and honest play. This includes competing without doping.

When a footballer meddles with banned substance he not only becomes a cheater but also ridicules the integrity of the game. A footballer who ruins the game by doping can never be a dignified contender. Fairness in the use of legal substances by athletes renders competition between them an equal contest. Otherwise, how can an outstanding performance be reasonably qualified as excellent?

Sports’ real inherent character is integrity. True champions are those who are honest. In other words, the champion abides by strong moral principles that provide a strong ethical framework for sports.

Moreover, winners are not egocentric freaks. On the contrary, they support each other and share feelings, aims and dreams. Mutual support increases reciprocal success on and off the pitch. This solidarity spirit paves the way for tolerance.

What a dignified behaviour to willingly accept decisions that are somewhat controversial! Tolerance has to be constantly fed by self-control. Authentic champions care about one another because they are well aware that they could only have reached the level they enjoy today thanks to people who, altruistically, gave them the care they needed to progress in their careers. The investment others have patiently put in the footballers compels the latter to give their very best in the World Cup.

Sport engages participants in a collective endeavour to pursue human excellence. The last enduring value sport brings about is joy. That joy is what Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, dreamt about when he said: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well.”

May the rhythm of fair play prevail in this World Cup festival.


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