I’ve lived through an interesting period of time when it comes to sports and how we cover and perceive them. I’ve tended to consider most of my changing perceptions on sport to be related to my own maturation. A twelve-year-old kid will think about sports very differently than a 30-year-old adult. But there’s more going on as I’m finding that I’m not the only one with these feelings.
For example, I’m finding international competition to be increasingly meaningless. The Olympics, for starters, is now endless, prepackaged, tape-delayed coverage. So much so that I find myself just not caring about the events anymore. Plus, since all the athletes are professionals in constant competition against each other anyway, I no longer understand what makes the Olympic games unique.
At least with team sports, international competition is still appealing. Reorganizing teams every couple years for a summer tournament provides a nice change of pace and different way to see things. While the quality of play may not be as good as the best professional teams are capable of,* because many fans still pick their rooting interests based on where their compatriots play, it’s nice to have them all on the same team every once in a while.
*though the massive overlap between Spain and Barcelona comes pretty close.
It’s not clear how long international competition will remain appealing. The world is getting smaller and it’s increasingly likely that people will migrate toward following club sports—or at least the international superstar players—instead of international teams. I’m not ready to throw in the towel regarding all international competition* but I do agree with the concept that there is something inherently nostalgic about it. And that it’s sort of the last bastion of the concept of pure amateur sport.
Which is what scares me. Once we start trying to preserve a sense of what sport should be, or used to be, we run the risk of screwing it up the way we’ve screwed up college sports. It’s not enough to say “be careful of what you wish for” since we also have to think about how to maintain that wish. Holding on to concepts like “amateur” long after it’s stopped describing anyone is not useful. “International” is soon to be the same type of term. Players won’t always play for their passports. Many don’t already. And it’s increasingly obvious that many of the best players are not playing for the best national teams (right now).
We know too much now. We know all the dirty laundry behind the scenes. We talk to the players on Twitter. They talk to us. We know everything is for sale. Sports is global. The audience is global. It’s no longer about how my local team is doing—assuming I even follow my local team…
But there’s hope. Look at a lot of what Major League Baseball’s doing for example. Retro is in. As it should be. Classic uniforms. Classic ballparks. After a couple decades of multipurpose doughnut stadiums and attempts to modernize the look, Baseball has realized that it’s really about embracing the past.* For Americans, Baseball is about nostalgia. Heck, it’s a game which is still best experienced on the radio.
*I wish it would go further and roll back interleague play, the wild card, and the DH but I doubt that will ever happen now.
International sports should take a page from the same book. Embrace the past and find ways of evoking it. Become unabashedly retro and make us remember what we liked about it all when we were kids.