Sport brings disparate people together by strengthening ties and celebrating fairness, sacrifice and hope, says Bev Turner

Over the weekend the football Premier League kicked off again and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham come to a close on Monday

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Over the weekend the football Premier League kicked off again and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are coming to a close on Monday.

SO what? I hear you say – there are more important things to talk about than sport! And you wouldn’t be alone - when I praised some of the British performances on social media I was accused of encouraging the plebs to be distracted by “Bread and Circuses” – the phrase used by Roman poet Juvenal to describe the need to superficially appease the masses so that they wouldn’t worry their little heads about life and thereby demand more from their leaders.

And there is no doubt that if more people were more critical of political decisions our lives might look very different.

BUT – we have never needed sport more than now. So what does world-class physical competition really symbolise?

Bev Turner says sport is more important than ever during division.
Bev Turner says sport is more important than ever during division.

Perfectionism. In a world in which too many people shrug, ‘that’ll do;’ in schools where everyone gets a medal because no child must ever feel disappointed; in societies which foster mediocrity in case anyone’s feelings are upset by someone who excels…we need sport.

The skill of the boxers, runners, swimmers, pole vaulters in Birmingham have been honed with the utmost dedication to achieve human excellence. Moral philosopher Derek Parfit says that perfectionism involves the realisation of “the best things in life.” What a world it would be if everyone possessed this zeal to pursue perfection.

But it’s more even than that! The Commonwealth Games is a celebration of 54 united countries but it’s intersection with Britain’s Colonial past was irrelevant. Nobody tore down statues of the Queen in an effort to censor history. It was a positive emblem of individual states coalescing around a joint endeavour.

Remember, we had nearly two years of any large sports event being cancelled with very few voices publicly questioning the science behind such extreme measures. There will have been elite athletes, or those rising through the ranks who quit their sport under such restrictions and we must be mindful of that when we celebrate every trainer still pounding down the track.

The response to the covid virus caused a paradigm shift in which the whole world that overnight set its rules to the arbitrarily designated needs of the weakest. We must always protect the weakest. But at what cost to the fittest?

Sport venerates the physically and mentally strongest human beings on the planet and that is an ambition we must never lose.

I was watching the divers teetering in a handstand on the edge of a 10m board and I was in awe of their magnificence! In an age where the ‘body positivity’ movement want us to worship clinical obesity despite the obvious cost to human life – I for one delighted in the muscle and sinew of young adults pushing the limits of their glorious physiology.

Every athlete at the games demonstrated individual bravery, focus and willingness to face defeat – the opposite of the snowflake stereotype so easily offended if life doesn’t go their way…

The England team celebrate after winning the women's Commonwealth gold medal match.
The England team celebrate after winning the women's Commonwealth gold medal match.

There was Scotland’s Laura Muir in the 1500m final – putting her foot on the gas and leaving her rivals behind – showing us mere mortals extraordinary depths of physical and mental strength, before collapsing on the track, exhausted but victorious.

I have to watch Boxing through my fingers but I still admire that controlled aggression – and the ability to smack each other around the head then jump for joy when the bell rings. Bonkers! But necessary.

We have spent too much time presuming healthy people are ill – we were literally told by the government to act as though we were! So, these reminders of our innate abilities are psychologically necessary as we recalibrate our relationship to our own – an each other’s boundaries. No more obsession with the fragility of life – more of this physical prowess!

And the theme of Family ran throughout the Commonwealth Games – no athlete achieved success without a family in the background making sacrifices.

There were stories of ancestral threads dotted throughout: gold medallist diver Australian Cass Rousseau whose grandad won track gold in the 1956 Olympics. Scotland’s iconic Liz McColgan was in the stands weeping as her daughter Eilish won gold and silver in the 5 and 10,000 m events. Just wonderful.

Family matters and to watch someone quite literally following in her mother’s painful but victorious footsteps left me in floods of tears…

Alex Yee wins the men's triathlon sprint.
Alex Yee wins the men's triathlon sprint.

And the next generation need to see these sporting highs. We had a weeping Tom Bosworth who won the walking event urging parents through his tears, “just take your kids down to a club, they might be rubbish like I was,” he said, “but you just keep going and look at me now!

England won gold in 4 x 100m track relay– 4 black guys selected because they are the fastest and the strongest, not because a diversity quota put them there. All levels of melanin represented on-screen but fundamentally irrelevant.

There is something old-fashioned but essential about TV Interviews with competitors devastated by defeat, their hearts broken in two but nobody asking them if their mental health is ok…because they know the risks as well as the rewards and they take responsibility for the outcome.

I could even ignore the ludicrous mask theatre that some teams and spectators were still performing as the golden sun shone down with nobody protesting about global warming. It was a shameless celebration of National Pride. Our gold medallist Hockey team belting out Jerusalem having defeated Australia on our very own “Green and Pleasant Land.”

And, lastly, sport unifies. It brings disparate people together by strengthening ties and celebrating the common ideals of fairness, sacrifice and hope. At a time when we are weakened by division, finding reasons to cheer together has never been more crucial.

So let’s never think it’s only sport. As coach and player Arrigo Sacchi said about football, it’s “the most important of the unimportant things in life.” I’d say it’s even more than that.