Member Insights: Sport is better when it reflects the real world
December 15, 2022
In this Member Insights piece Richard Brinkman, looks back at the last year in sport and why authenticity and generosity seem to be the way forward.
Beyond 2022’s wins, losses and outstanding sporting performances my over-riding impression this year is just how much better sport is when it acts as a metaphor for real-life. When it is reflective of the world that we all really live in. When it has a meaning and resonance in our lives over and above the result.
Achieving incredible feats on the pitch, track, court, table or track is well out of range for the vast majority of us. They remain purely aspirational, a (very!) distant dream. However, when we can relate to the struggle, the battle, the endurance, tenacity and determination; to the disappointments, the heartbreak, near-misses, humiliations and occasional triumphs then what we see and discuss becomes truly involving. The magic comes to life and the unique emotional pull and value of sport is realised.
This is where, for me, Women’s sport has really made an impact in 2022. Humility plays a big role in how relatable many sportswomen are. However, even more than that, it is the mutual respect between players and the fact that they just look like they are having fun, enjoying what they are doing, that is appealing to the average fan. This is sport as the majority would like to see it. As the majority experience it – generous of spirit and borne of enjoyment.
Is 2022 the year that sport really has finally started to blend with entertainment – beyond merely sharing some mutual audiences and distribution platforms? Entertainment is so much more accessible when it is delivered with a smile and surely that is indicative of what most want from their sport – an entertaining and engaging distraction. Particularly in the current climate where most of us have far more pressing matters to occupy us than whether our team has won or lost.
Indeed, memories of 2022 are not just focussed around winning. Like most I couldn’t help but be captivated by the Lionesses enjoying each other’s company and their roller-coaster ride to the Euros trophy. Equally, Rachel Blackmore’s sheer excitement and utter disbelief after the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the sort of authentic human reaction that we all love to see. However, the dignity, good grace and beaming smile that Sarah Hunter displayed after what must have been an agonising loss in the World Cup Final will live equally long in the memory.
This authenticity and relatability, to my mind, is much of the “secret sauce” that Women’s sport enjoys. Long may it last and I very much hope that it is not lost as female sport continues to grow and “professionalise”. Far too much of the polemic around it is focussed on what Women’s sport is not (ie what we are familiar with in Men’s sport) rather than on what it can be. To fulfil its potential Women’s sport needs to add to the entertainment offering, not be more of what sports fans already have.
With a news cycle of discontentment, increasingly polarised views and a paucity of good news it is perhaps no surprise to see sports teams and organisations respond to what fans want to see – to how we want to be entertained. The Stokes/McCullum approach to Test cricket (ripping up the rulebook and just “going for it” at all times and any cost) is “on brand” at the end of 2022. The pragmatism and seemingly joyless and risk-averse approach of Eddie Jones’ England rugby team is not tolerable – even if it does reduce the team’s chances in next year’s World Cup.
It seems that, in the current climate we all want our sport to be more Kevin Sinfield, and less Cristiano Ronaldo. The court of public opinion seems to be responding harshly to those that do not act authentically and generously. Behaviour and values appear to be at least as important as achievements.
Will 2022 go down as the year that sport’s focus on “playing the system”, doing “a professional job” and whatever it takes to win is surpassed by a greater focus on what you do and how you do it – regardless of result? The year when being entertaining and genuine becomes more valuable than being victorious?