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Offbeat – 25 January 2013

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In terms of ‘winning is everything’, everyone who does not win becomes an ‘also ran’ or a ‘loser’. If ‘winning is everything’ then ‘how you played the game’ is an artificial add-on at best. Lance Armstrong’s doping showed the chasm between the two ideas.

The whole thing with Lance Armstrong should begin to fizzle out round about now. He should be out of the news round about June, thank Heavens. Personally, I can’t stand the whole thing. Where there’s smoke, there’s inevitably fire, so why did it take so long for the whole thing to reach this point?
There’s a second question which needs asking? Why was he so important. Bicycle races are fine for cyclists and they were almost great when I was a kid, but there’s not much more to it than that. Did it really have to take top spot on news spots over tragedies like whoever is getting their blood shed in the Middle East? That’s the thing that has been occupying a small part of my mind for the last few days.
I think I have some answers, but they might not be pleasing.
Once upon a time, about thirty to forty years ago, I learned the words, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.”
That had to be true because I was a very good bowler, and nobody got to do much more than stand for a few seconds in front of the dented school paraffin drum. As a result, I wasn’t allowed to bowl, so I gave up cricket and tried a couple of other sports which I, so, did not do well at.
I dropped sports after a while, with the exception of swimming for a couple of years, in which I never felt obliged to compete. In fact, I dropped sports so completely that the arrival of television in my life, gave me a nasty shock.
The things that are dinned into you as a kid often stay with you. When television channels showed up in my adult household, I got a cold shock. The old mantra about ‘how you play the game’ vanished. It was replaced by ‘winning is everything’.
The simple idea of a game, and sportsmanship, was rarely mentioned, except for certain articles, usually about athletics, in which one runner helps another runner. Those articles almost always appeared as oddities, in about the same perceptual space as articles about men copulating with farm animals.
The culture with the ‘winning’ mindset is pervasive. Lance Armstrong was a very significant part of that culture. Winning may be admirable at times, but it has its shadow. In terms of ‘winning is everything’, everyone who does not win becomes an ‘also ran’ or a ‘loser’. If ‘winning is everything’ then ‘how you played the game’ is an artificial add-on at best. Lance Armstrong’s doping showed the chasm between the two ideas.
We should not blame him. He did what was wanted of him. We should blame ourselves. The broad consensus has been that just playing the game is not of sufficient value. Sad. While we are here, we should also meditate on whether it is the absorption of recreational play that we really want, or the ephemeral glory of dominance, racked up per event and aggregated over a lifetime?
As long as ‘winning is everything’, we should, actually, take a relaxed view to enhancements such as doping.
If playing the game is important, then we should say so, and give recognition to the people who play well, who work at it and who buck the trend by showing ethics, and by supporting their fellow players (note that I didn’t use the word ‘competitors’ there). That means looking at the qualities and determination of people who are at the back of the field as well.
This is an ethic for everyday life as well.
You can do your best. You can learn and grow. You don’t have to stand at the forefront of everything in a leadership role. And it you are the quiet, hidden person at the back, then you can take pride in being a contributor. A good team is a good team, a thing of immense value, whichever way you look at it.
People who have to fight to the top of the food chain, who have to cheat, bully and resort to underhanded tactics, end up as losers anyway. Sooner or later their fights to preserve positions fail and they fall to newcomers.
We need to recognise in Lance Armstrong one thing of value. He showed us that winning isn’t everything. I hope the idea sticks and that it helps to change the way we see life.

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