From the editor's desk: The power of sport
July 18, 2019 | 7:33 AM
by Charles Lavery

Watch the Wimbledon final, then tell me books are more important than sport .

Roger Federer makes me believe in the future. Djokovic too. And the entire England and New Zealand cricket teams.

Total tennis collided on our screens with captivating World Cup cricket last week— and it was an Olympian showcase of inspiration, aspiration and perfection.

At 37, Federer was pipped by Novak Djokovic, 5 years his junior. The final set went to 12-12. A normal set is first to six. Almost five full hours of two of the world’s ultimate athletes slinging it out for glory in the Wimbledon sunshine as across the city, at the home of cricket, a nail-biting World Cup was played out to the absolute end between a victorious England and their New Zealand opponents.

At one point, Wimbledon’s official twitter account tweeted to the cricket world cup organisers to ask how they were holding up...

I feel sorry for the men’s doubles champions, crowned earlier that day. What were their names again?

It was just glorious, and people like Federer and Djokovic remind me of childhood heroes. We all have them; the people who we wanted to be.

The placid perfection of Bjorn Borg over a mischievous John McEnroe. An effortless George Best or Maradona or Ian Botham. Martina Navratilova or Chris Evert-Lloyd.

And that’s what sport should do - make us aspire to be better. Marathons were the first recorded sporting events among Olympians, as far back as 760BC. I’m sure there was a youngster watching the first race who wanted to be the winner.

That level of achievement reminded me of the heroes I grew up with, and made me think about how sport unites and inspires, when it is played in the proper manner. The Indian children I watched playing cricket in their villages will immediately tell you their favourite player’s name and how they strive to emulate their achievements. I’ve watched kids play baseball in Havana, Cuba, with a cardboard inner tube and a ball made of scrunched up newspaper and tape. I’ve watched kids in slums near Abuja, Nigeria, kick a football around as if their very life depended on it. Perhaps it does.

They all have one thing in common. They have been inspired by greatness like that on display on Sunday evening, and they aspire to achieve the same.

I hope lots of parents allowed their children to watch these marathon endeavours on TV, despite the lateness of the hour. I recall playing football matches of 22-a-side in the late summer evenings, with the score at 43 each and, as the sun finally went down, the cry would go up: “Next goal’s the winner!”, prompting a harem scarem race to goals made of sweaters and tracksuit tops.

Then inside to wash and watch Wimbledon, or the football, or whoever the hero of the week was.

When we score those goals, hit a sixer, knock it out of the baseball park, in our mind’s eye we become our heroes. I hope we never lose that.

I hope Federer and Djokovic, whose children were among the Wimbledon crowd watching, inspired a whole new generation of young athletes with that single match.

I hope that England’s World Cup victory gives the sport a shot in the arm and youngsters can once again be seen on village greens, to the echo of leather on willow.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of sport.

Children learn so much about teamwork, setting goals, mental and physical fitness, temperament, sportsmanship...the list is endless. Many parents don’t see these benefits and can be blinded by chasing academic success over sporting prowess. The two should go hand in hand.

I salute the sportspeople who make us see this, and whose dedication to their sport makes us all want to be better.

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