I was given a book called ‘The Meaning of Sport’, written by Simon Barnes, a few years ago in London from the lovely David Moorcroft, OBE, a former patient of mine.
David was a middle-distance and long-distance runner from England, and a former world record holder for 5,000 metres. I tried to help alleviate the chronic arthritic knee pain he was experiencing after all those years running. I connected with David, and we formed a relationship, brief as it was;
It was based on the love and passion for sport, and all that comes with that. Love for sport. Sport unites everyone. It brings people together. It is heart-thumping, heart-braking and brings with it a life-enhancing excitement due to the remarkable physical endeavour - to steal some words from the author Simon Barnes himself.
We as a nation have missed sport massively. As restrictions are gradually lifted further in Ireland from the last week of June
into July, we will start to see more sport being played.
The sporting seasons, halted due to the covid-19 pandemic, will have caused an unprecedented challenge to the Irish Institute of Sport, the FAI, IRFU, GAA, etc.
The return to play initiative is when all health management services, players, teams, performance personnel, medical staff, league staff and volunteers will really have to front up to the challenge ahead as one united team. A safe and compliant return-to-play protocol is imperative to ensure sport stays upon it resuming.
Governing bodies and sports institutions cannot get carried away with excitement. Crowds and TV revenue will return, when the time is right and appropriate from a health and safety perspective. The ‘new normal’ will undoubtedly effect sports clubs and all participants.
Hand sanitising, social distancing, crowd control and other forms of etiquette and protocol are here to stay for the time being. Locker rooms, reception areas, toilets and all commonly used spaces will look, smell, and feel different. They will be more spacious. There will be signs about covid- 19 up on walls. There will be no hugs, high fives, and handshakes to meet and greet; there may be the occasional elbow or fist bump though!
But – there will be play and God we love to play here on this small green wet island.
Training and games will bring a breath of life back into the Irish population, like the kiss that woke Sleeping Beauty. We as a country love sport – and need it to survive. Think back to memories of your childhood, or even the last few years – Ireland under Jack Charlton, Dublin’s 5-in-a-row, boxing champ Katie Taylor, Irish ladies hockey, Shane Lowry and the “Clara Jug”, the notorious Conor McGregor, the Skibbereen rowers, Sonia O’Sullivan, Irish rugby and quarter finals, Cody’s cats, Derval O’Rourke, Keane and Saipan – this list is endless.
It is both heart-breaking and gut wrenching. It is also joyful and exhilarating. The highs and lows of sport make it special, and intoxicating…like love. The big question is how will clubs manage to cope with new expectations upon resumption of practice and games. They will have to budget for covid-19 symptom monitoring and prevention strategies, but the Irish government should provide financial support to the small - and not just the big hitters that play in the Aviva and Croke Park.
High performance and success in sport are built upon motivation as a key foundational pillar. The willingness and drive to get out of bed and pursue your passion and purpose, to create a legacy is all about motivation. Take Lindsay Peat as an example. She is the epitome of this all-important and all-consuming mindset. She never settles. She is always trying to improve and get better - “good, better best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best as St. Jerome said.
She has excelled in many sports – basketball, inter-county Gaelic football (GAA) and now professional rugby for Leinster. She has represented her country in basketball and rugby and won an All-Ireland for Dublin in GAA. She captained her country.
She has done it all - and still does not take the foot off the gas. She loves sport and is motivated by what it brings – hard work, intentional effort, focus, care, nurturing, togetherness, energy. As much as she puts into sport she gets back so much. Sport has been a huge part of her life, and she is only one example. I could write a thousand different ones.
Exercise and sport have a huge impact on us psychologically, physically, and socially. Physical self-worth and self-perception, including body image, has been linked to improved self-esteem. Anxiety, depression, and mental illness can be reduced by sport participation.
The evidence relating to the health benefits of physical activity predominantly focuses on intra-personal factors such as physiological, cognitive and affective benefits; however, that does not exclude the social and inter-personal benefits of sport and physical activity which can also produce positive health effects in individuals and communities.
Social distancing has been and will continue to be hard for Irish people to get acquainted to. We are welcoming people…warm and approachable. Whilst we must bear in mind some structure to avoid possibly picking up covid-19 sport will help re-forge our relationships and community more.
Most sports involve working cohesively in a team environment. Even sports with individual scores, such as swimming, have a team-building element, such as when there is a swim meet in another city away from the normal swim club. That team component can create more co-operation skills, more focus, improved communication, and more commitment.
Mental and social wellbeing will reap the benefits of sporting activity. Sport provides a support network for us, not just a social network. Numerous studies have shown that participating in sports also correlates to more success in school and work.
It provides organisation, routine, and structure – all crucial ingredients to a successful working life away from sport. A report from the Centre for Economic Policy Research, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that people who participated in sports earned higher pay, better grade averages, had better attendance and a higher likelihood of going to college.
Sport is a two-way street. Athletes need the supporters to enjoy their performances more. After a 30 year wait Liverpool finally won their dream league and the first thing their manager Jurgen Klopp said was....” the supporters can push us to incredible things and without them, it is nothing. I never missed them more than I did tonight because imagine this game in front of 50,000 people the emotions that would have been in the stadium. It would have been incredible”.
The sooner we can fill stadiums with fans again the better, for everyone. We have seen the success of the domestic rugby competition in New Zealand, Super Rugby Aotearoa, with more spectators and noise than ever in stadia like Eden Park in
Auckland and AMI stadium in Christchurch.
Those days are coming back for us in Ireland. Sport and all that comes with it gives us so much. We have lost many sporting events due to the virus – Wimbledon, the Open, etc. On the other hand - We are very fortunate – there are so many incredible events coming up on the calendar, all going well – the return of provincial rugby, a hurling and Gaelic football championship up to Christmas, the Super Bowl, fast cars on F1 circuits, games in Fenway, NBA in Disney, Padraig Harrington at the helm of Team Europe in Whistling Straits…one only realises how important something is to them when it is gone.
As Rick Telander said, ‘Heaven is a playground’ – we need to play as humans. Sport facilitates this play in a structured and fun manner. The world has missed sport - massively. It is coming back to us, slowly, but hopefully to stay. Sport improves your wellbeing. It is medicine for the soul, mind, and body...no matter your age. It is part of our make-up.
Welcome back Sport. We missed you.