Sport or Religion ?

”Strange light,” I said to Camp as soon as I sat down, referring to the persistent shroud of smoke particles from the wildfires hanging over the south coast.

“Looks like Beijing,” Camp grumbled, “but we shouldn’t complain. Just then the TV above our heads showed the destructive path of hurricane Irma with Jose right behind. “Now that is bad weather,” I said, shaking my head. We both sat there, feeling awed and powerless. But Campbell, or Camp as the world around here knows him, had something else but the weather on his mind.

I ordered us a couple of pints from Vicky when Camp pointed an accusing finger at me. “You like to watch soccer or footie as the English call it or Football as it should properly be called, not to be confused with the game played with helmets and shoulder pads.”

“Sorry Camp, what was the question?”

“European football, you watch it don’t you?”

“Yeah , I love Barcelona, in fact the whole La Liga Espanol and I also follow the Whitecaps and some MLS games. It’s the beautiful game Camp. Artistry with a ball, accuracy, control, suspense. Hours of spontaneous, sometimes repetitive choreography interspersed with moments of pure brilliance.”

“You are talking about soccer aren’t you?”

“Camp, I detect an attitude of doubt and disapproval but you haven’t grown up with the game, haven’t played hours of football in back alleys against garage doors, in open fields and gravel parking lots.”

“It’s not the game I object to, although I don’t understand it. Most ball games are leisure activities, where the endless waiting is filled with drinking. Most of these games like golf, curling, bowling and crocket can be played by octogenarians and do not qualify as a sport in my view. Except baseball of course.”

“Hold on there my friend, you’re treading dangerous waters here. Football or soccer is a highly competitive sport demanding talent, focus, training, physical fitness. eye to mind to foot coordination and utmost alacrity. It’s the ultimate a human body can excel in. Nothing trite or trivial about it. It’s more popular than religion, have you know.”

“Well, you got me there. Actually I brought it up because of the insane amounts of money clubs spend on individual players. I just read that this Neuman guy from Barcelona was sold to a club in Paris for $ 450 million.”

“First of all the name is Neymar and Barcelona has sold him to Paris St.Germain for $ 263.- million. Yes, it’s a lot of money for a ball player,” I admitted.

“Some would call it obscene. $ 130 million per leg? It’s a quarter of a billion dollars my friend. You could build a nice size, modern and equipped hospital for that, or build 250 apartments or pay university tuition for 2500 students or any number of meaningful things. And it’s only one player on a roster of what? 20 players per team and how many teams? A hundred, a thousand? Or how about the half billion dollar payout on that recent Vegas boxing match? Hyped like it was the second coming. It’s insane! Some Sports teams have higher budgets then some countries and stadiums are today’s churches. The only difference is that sports teams don’t promise an after life but they demand and command just as fierce an allegiance and devotion from their fans.” Camp took an exhausted gulp from his beer while I tried hard to come up with a meaningful rebuttal.

“I happen to play soccer myself, “ I lamely said, “and I love it, always have. And I play for free. In fact it probably cost me plenty over the years, including reconstructive surgery on both knees, fees and equipment, travel and work missed due to injuries and not to mention all the rounds of beer after the games and tournaments.”

“You’re describing exactly what I said,” Camp pointed out, “even risking health and body parts. It’s a religion for all intents and purposes, with high priest like this Neymar guy and popes like the Russian oligarchs who own the teams, pandering to their predominantly male congregation of devoted fans. It’s bread and circuses, opium for the masses, distraction and entertainment. I guess we need that. And they’re hopped up on drugs and performance enhancers. Super humans they want to be like that Lance Armstrong and this Russian tennis player.”

“Sharapova,” I said. “I’m a bit ambivalent about drugs. Mind you the drugs I took as a young man were the performance reducers but Lance brought cycling to North America and he raised millions for cancer research and he did win the most gruelling race in the world seven times. Ok, he took drugs but apparently so did everybody else.

“Not sure why anybody follows those sports?” Camp said.

“It is all some people have, a team to stand behind and live and breathe every move, every pass, every goal. It’s the stuff of memories and stories, myth and truth, fact and fiction,” I enthused.

“Oh boy, I think I’ll need another drink.”

“Hey what’s that on the TV Camp, it’s called baseball I think.”

“Now there is a real sport !” Camp visibly livened up and sat up straight, eyes locked onto the screen over my head, forgotten was all his lament and griping.”

“Now there is talent and skill, not twenty guys running after a random ball. Here we have strategy, rules, precision timing, technique and talent and defined jobs and positions, umpires, catchers, outfielders and batters. Now that’s a ball game my boy.”

I thought it best to remain quiet. Let the man have his opium. I was going to mention cricket, probably the world’s most popular ball game after soccer but then I don’t have a clue what it’s all about. Or what about rugby, surely the most physical of all ball games with a devout fan base, almost like a brotherhood. Instead I quietly sipped my beer while Camp ignored me watching the baseball game. Comparing baseball to football. Unbelievable. Bananas to apples, both fruit but both so different.

Playing sports is healthy, watching it from the couch maybe less so. I’m glad we solved all that. I finished my beer and quietly took my leave. Camp, who was completely distracted. Just said: “Until next Thursday.”