Sunday, March 4, 2012

Is Sport a Religion? Praying for your Team to win the Cup

Vancouver Canucks hockey game at GM Place

Nowadays, most people are sports-crazy, one way or another. Whether it is the Soccer World Cup, the Superbowl, or the Stanley Cup, sports-fans all over have their favorite teams to fret and craze over. They take their games quite seriously; in fact, sometimes even more so than the team members themselves!

You can see face paints, waving flags, jerseys and caps, and cheers and jeers everywhere. A win of your team can elevate your confidence, while others have entered a state of depression because their favorite team lost a significant match. The unfortunate side effect are also riots that can bring about -- in its extreme cases -- even death and destruction.

Can we claim that sport is a modern-day religion? When we look at martial arts, religion and sport, in fact, seem to make a perfect union there. Martial arts is as much a philosophy as it is a contact sport. Yoga is meditation practice while exercising your body at the same time. Wrestling was seen by the ancient Greeks as a form of combining physical actions with spiritual discipline. But what about in the modern Western world? Is soccer, football, or hockey a religion?

The cult of the favorite team is rather a form of worship. People carry around symbols of their sports-team, whether it is the jersey or a flag. They also recognize each other as members of the same community or congregation. They construct a shared world of symbols while they all join for the same common cause, to see their time win.

During a live sports event (and in some cases even at home) the home team is cheered on through ritualistic behaviors. In fact, the national anthem often sets the mood and may even raise the stakes for the teams involved by infusing the event with national pride regardless if the opponent is from a different country or not.

This ritualized and shared singing can be compared to the hymns of the church that foster and remind us of our own connection within the group. But the singing does not stop there. There are chants that are sung, screamed and shouted in unison. These rites are aimed at making one's team come out victorious. This constant chanting that seeks to animate and egg on the home team can be seen as a rather bizarre mix of superstitious beliefs, wishful thinking, and prayer.

It comes then as no real surprise that in a world that underscores emptiness and the void, sports should make that much of an impact on our modern-day psyche. Many have lost touch with themselves and their own identity within the community, and hence they are looking for means of overcoming their own brand of loneliness. Of course, religion is offering a substitute, but it is not to everyone's needs and taste due to its dogmatic flavor. 
Religion, with a few possible exceptions, is often too structured and rigid for the expression of exuberance and of wild emotions. In other words, people want to go crazy; they want to shout and scream and even cry tears of happiness or bitterness without feeling ashamed of those emotions. And the sports arena can give them the outlet they are so desperately looking for.

So we can say yes, in our modern world, sport has gained the status of religion because it fulfills some of the profound needs of the individual. It serves also as an escape from reality, from a world of routine, stress, and boredom. Whenever there is the next Stanley Cup at stake, people unite to show their passion for their favorite team that can fill them often with a sense of pride and direction in their lives. 

And yes, it may be true what some critics are saying that sport is a money-making scheme, and worse, it is lulling our brains and diverting us from the real problems in the world. It may be considered mindless entertainment, but I would not want to miss out on the heart-pounding adrenaline rush of seeing my favorite team hoist the Cup followed by an unforgettable and historic celebration in my community. 

In the meantime, I am praying for their success and wish them well as every once in a blue moon these athletes manage to bring a little bit more excitement to our lives, while filling their own pockets.