Sport on Good Friday, Easter Sunday or Christmas exposes our double standards – The Sydney Morning Herald

So here was your flint-eyed columnist on Monday morning, still festering in his dressing gown like Michael Douglas’ Professor Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, tears rolling down his cheeks as Sergio Garcia sank that putt that let the plug out of 19 years of frustration. Garcia’s joy could melt the meanest heart. To empathise with his transcendent ecstasy had the quality of a religious epiphany. And omigod, on Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday too, just as a sunbeam broke through the clouds, don’t set me off again.

How often does sport make you cry? On reflection, I’m not even sure if it was about Sergio, who has blotted his copybook in various ways over the years and never convincingly presented himself as a man who had come to terms with disappointment. I like Sergio, who has suffered golf’s unique varieties of torture in public for ever so long, but I also like Justin Rose, and might well have cried if the Englishman won.

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It was a long Masters, on not much sleep. Possibly the tears had nothing at all to do with the story, and were instead the physical reaction that Martin Amis had when he cried at the end of reading Don Quixote, ‘not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that Don Quixote could do’. Maybe we don’t watch a tournament as emotionally wrenching and sleep-depriving as the Masters so much as survive it. And then cry not because of who won but because it’s over.

To people who love their sport, these moments can feel like a spiritual experience, and as silly and presumptuous as that sounds, taking the place of the spiritual is precisely what professional sport in Australia is doing, scoffing down our last religious holidays like so many communion wafers. On Good Friday, the AFL gave in to the pressure of money and consumer demand and followed the precedent set by the NRL and the A-League, staging football on the last remaining Christian holiday available to its conquest. The football codes ceased respecting Easter Sunday many years ago. Currently, a wave of commercial and public opinion is pressing Cricket Australia to play Big Bash League on Christmas Day. In the northern hemisphere, football codes have already taken over Christmas. There is no longer even a slot for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on the December 25 TV guide.

Want to feel like a relic? Try explaining to a child how certain days used to be too sacred even for sport. Every Sunday used to be a day of rest, even for sportspeople. Not so long ago, it was inconceivable that professional sport would be played on Sundays; now it is impossible to believe that it would not be. Before long, sport on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas will be as unremarked as on any given Sunday, notwithstanding the codes’ gimmicky “special” rivalries on what used to be special days.

I don’t think professional sport should be played on Good Friday, Easter Sunday or Christmas. I don’t hold any brief for God, who’s big enough to fight his own battles, but I do believe that staging major contests on these days shows up the double standards and lack of vision of the sports and entertainment complex.

Spectators willingly buy into it, seldom stepping back to think about what they are losing. By watching big sporting events, we are making these holidays into just another weekend; in fact, just another day. This is all very well for the forces who are day-agnostic and want to change your workplace conditions so that Sundays and holidays do not, actually, exist anymore. Why should you get any kind of loading? It’s just another workday. Look at the cinemas, they’re open. Look at the sporting calendar, everyone’s on the job. Sun comes up, sun goes down, turnstiles click over. To business, any day is as good as another.

When the sportspeople who perform on Good Friday or Easter Sunday go out later and blow up their reputations with post-game atrocities, the community tends to tut-tut and issue lectures about how life is bigger than sport and the problem for these young professionals is that they have no balance, no perspective, no way of getting outside the sporting bubble and realising that it is just one segment of a many-hued life. This is what sacred days used to help us do: remind us that it is good for the spirit to switch off the box and step off the treadmill of work and consumption. It doesn’t sit right that, on the one hand, young sportspeople are chastised for being small-minded, when on the other hand, audiences demand that every possible entertainment slot must be filled and every opportunity to cash in must be maximised. Good Friday, when no sport was on television, wasn’t necessarily a time to reflect on Bible stories, but it was a time when people had to use a bit of imagination to decide how to spend their afternoon. Now, the unthinking option is at their fingertips.

No code does hypocrisy quite like the AFL, and accordingly the breaking of the taboo of Good Friday has been salved by the donation of proceeds collected during the Bulldogs-Kangaroos match to the Good Friday Appeal for the Royal Children’s Hospital. On the one hand, we can say that anything that raises money for a good cause is worthwhile. On the other hand…well, let’s just wash that one in Easter week…and where have we heard about that before? As long as the AFL can feel holy about itself, I suppose nothing else matters.

Even if you are not religious in any way, questions must be asked about business-as-usual on the last sports-free days of the year. When rest days and holidays are given away, they are given away forever. Commercial activity floods into the space, and at the leading edge of that commercial ingress is sport with all its trappings of phony spiritualism. We sportswriters and broadcasters, veering between mean cynicism and abject sentimentality, take on the highly improper role of interpreters of mysteries. The sporting bodies invest their product with a pseudo-ritualistic significance. And before we know it, we take the whole thing far too seriously and find ourselves in tears.

Or maybe I had something in my eye.


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