We need sports to work and fight – at least to fight with ourselves. Also, to transform a band of young bullies into a sports team and a troublemaker destined for prison into a champion, and to melt his courage and energy into an Olympic gold medal, another reason to proudly listen to the national anthem.
Also, sports are especially important for city dwellers. A carpenter, a blacksmith or a gardener will get their hands sore in a day without a dumbbell or a horizontal bar – but not an office worker. A city dweller who has to spend hours in the traffic, who is overloaded with information, overstretched with stress, and suffocated by the exhaust gases of the city street, needs a treadmill, a swimming pool, and a workout machine. We need sports to survive. I don’t just mean that an athlete’s heart is fitter and his nerves are stronger. I mean that life gets a new taste for a person who is sweaty and physically tired. That person can appreciate the taste of water again and prefer it to the taste of Coca-Cola. He is also able to enjoy the sweetness of a good night’s sleep again. Previously, it was the scythe, the plank, and the saw that people used. Now most people use skis, ropes or weights.
Some sports grew out of life’s work. For example, a today’s biathlete is a yesterday’s taiga hunter. Skis and rifles are the bread of his family. A fisherman did not work on the oars to build his shoulder belt muscles, but for the sake of a catch that he and his children would feed on. Nowadays, sports can give us a glimpse into how hard this daily work of an ordinary person used to be.
Other sports come from military exercises. Wrestling, shooting, fencing, running, equestrian sports were not born out of fun, but out of peacetime exercises to stay alive in future combat. Athletes of today know very well how hard this martial labor and preparation for it was. The language of sports competitions is indistinguishable from military vocabulary. “Coaching staff,” “tactical pattern,” “swift attack,” “well-coordinated defense.” Who hasn’t heard these and similar expressions? Who hasn’t figured out that they are akin to military terms?
There are sports that rival the beauty and complexity of art. Synchronized swimming and figure skating are closer to ballet than to war. Let’s keep in mind, however, that ballet is as hard as the work of a miner in a coal mine; ballet dancers rightfully retire at a time when many people have not yet started to work properly. The same holds true for gymnasts and figure skaters.
In any case, professional sports are tough work that glorifies the country and shreds the athlete to pieces, like the soldier. If a nation is strong enough to achieve world records, then it is strong enough to do anything else. You can get quite close to the truth about the physical and moral standing of the nation based on its sports achievements.
Do Orthodox Christians need sports? And if so, why?
We do, because we are humans. We also need healthy children, busy teenagers who are not lost in the streets or in front of a computer. We are also in need of strong men and old people who stay active and lively for a long time. We need all the things that are free from sin. We need everything that is beneficial for the mind, the conscience, the family, and the nation. Statistics lovers can prove to us, if they wish, that not only the curve of diseases, but also the curve of domestic crimes and sinful addictions goes down where the curve of mass participation in sports creeps up. The word “life” does not only mean biological existence for us. We must live without sin, cheerfully, and productively. We have to understand it at least as clearly as everyone else.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds