I remember the first time I fell out of love with Sports. It was 1999 and the Cricket World Cup was taking place. For years I knew South Africa was going to win. Convinced. I mean how could they not? My prayers would be answered. I had dedicated years to celebrating the wins and commiserating the losses and it could not amount to nothing. Nothing being another loss. This loss.
My roommates in boarding school had given up our room’s walls to allow for my worshipping of sports with as many posters as possible. All dedicated to this particular team that would be winning a world cup. This world cup. It was time. Until it was not. It was during our study break, all of us crowded in the TV lounge, the boarding master allowing for a few minutes extra…because we were so close. Then it happened. The first and only time I cried over a sport. The never can be forgotten Klusener/Donald run-out. The game was over and we had lost. And we were out. And I sat there in tears. The only comfort being that I was not the only one.
I had been let down for the last time. The posters came down. Where had I gone wrong? My expectations were clearly too high. But I still loved the game. How could I continue watching it without being so invested? I took a few months and found another team. But this time I’d be clever about it. I picked a team that would match my much lower expectations. I had learned my lesson. No posters, no magazine subscriptions. Not too much investment. Just a few late nights or super early mornings but the best part was if they lost it was to be expected. If they won it would be a welcomed surprise. I was semi-committed, lines drawn to ensure I was not fully committed. I was mentally in but emotionally out.
Over the years, similar experiences happened with all other sports. Grand prix rules made it less exciting for me and the splitting of Mercedes and McLaren made me break up with this sport. Raul and Casillas left Real Madrid and my romanticised notion of the Great Gallacticos left in memory as each player had left one by one. I moved from the Cape so the Stormers seemed like a long-distance love gone wrong.
My love for sports was buried under my hate and fear of being disappointed. I stopped watching matches live, preferring news articles and highlights to match my downtrodden expectations. My emotions stuck in the years gone by; my mental state switched off. Passion was not acceptable anymore because if I was passionate about something, I’d just be equally disappointed. And I clearly had a lot of passion for these things so the level of disappointment would be intolerable.
Years passed. And while nothing moved me I kept a distant interest. On the sidelines. Or maybe even further away. I refused to remember any names, stats or anything else that would mean attachment but I would keep apps on my phone that I would randomly tap into and gaze through articles and videos with the denial of a fool. I had promised myself that I would never cry over a sport again. And I hadn’t. Not even for tears of joy. Not even when Real Madrid had won the Champions League against Liverpool and I got to watch that match in my brother’s house…extra special because he’s a die-hard Barcelona fan and if there’s one thing he doesn’t appreciate, it’s is his sister being an RM fan. I felt like I had gone from lover to friend to the brim of acquaintance or stranger. A lingering care but denial of love. A faint interest but no attachment.
Until the stars aligned. Unexpectedly. I was reading a book about how the world was f*cked (No joke. It’s called “Everything is f*cked. A book about hope” by Mark Manson. A must read. It’s humorous and insightful and made me feel better about life). I read this book at a time when I had given up on self-help books so it seemed appropriate to reinforce my giving up. I was out of town in a place with very little to do and I was eagerly waiting for loadshedding. Yes, eagerly. Because loadshedding meant I could go sleep.
How, you might ask, did this mean the stars aligned? Because I had just finished the book and felt a little bit of life come back in me. Loadshedding didn’t happen and I found myself with nothing else to do and watching two sports matches with the teams I supported, winning. But this wasn’t the waking up part. It was the fact that I found myself yelling and shouting at the TV as if the last couple of decades hadn’t happened. What was this? My hate of disappointment being buried by my love for sports? Could it be that I had missed this feeling? Could it be that I wanted to be committed to this love of sports again? There I was throwing caution to the wind the way a child may roll down a hill with no fear of injury or no fear of not stopping.
There were no butterflies in my stomach (that’s anxiety I’ve come to learn) but a calmness that gave me peace and comfort. Is this the meaning of adulthood? Of love for sports? An acceptance of ups and downs as part of the game? Of commitment without giving into fear or hate?
The next game I watch we may lose. But that’s okay; win or lose, I’m committed. I’ve got my grit and passion back to make it through. Because the individuals in the teams may change but Sports itself never does. There’s good days and then there’s bad days. We revel in both. We go along the journey, each one building onto the next. Unfaltering commitment. And if that’s one thing I can commit to, it’s to the love of Sports.