How easy it is for those who broadcast the latest twists and turns in Westminster to become convinced, not only that they speak with the authority of experts, but that all they do is all that matters – that the world turns on the axis of ephemeral political dramas or trivial commentariat gossip. Events and opinions perceived by most of us as normal are routinely reinterpreted as firestorms by those for whom current affairs are more significant than timeless truths.
So, last Sunday, on a gloriously sunny summer afternoon, I was reassuringly reminded that keeping calm and carrying on is what most people do day in day out, without question. On a weekend in which the England team wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat in one of the most thrilling Ashes Test Matches in history – bearing comparison with Botham’s 1981 triumph – my Parliamentary cricket team and the Moulton Irregulars played the same sport (though not in my case to the same standard!) under the beating sun of the hottest August bank holiday weekend in British history. For the first time in a number of years, the Lords and Commons representatives were victorious, albeit by a mere 22 runs.
As, for the twentieth year running, we raised funds for local good causes, I was inspired again to ponder the importance of community. A life lived alone, even one of great advantage, cannot sustain any of us in the way that social interaction and collective belonging do.
Sport – be it on the field, pitch, court or in the ring, is the most readily accessible route to shared civic pride and patriotic togetherness. Competing alongside others builds bonds of loyalty, with common endeavour overcoming differences and disagreements. Perhaps the most surprisingly enriching manifestation of this comradeship is found in the relationships between sporting opponents – the marriage between the drive to win and the regard for those we strive to beat.
Arguably, there is most to learn in this tension between competitiveness and respect for the other side. In an increasingly brutal age darkened by the crass simplicity of crude exaggerations, given bogus credibility by identity politics and exposure through social media, the spirit of sport provides a glimmer of civilising light. Never brighter than with our great summer game.
For as the memorable broadcaster and writer John Arlott said: ‘Perhaps no game has seemed to change so little… it has always reflected the community in which it is played.’ In my experience, communities here in Lincolnshire generally stand apart from the acrid nonsense peddled by a good deal of ‘modern media’. From village cricket to the ashes, sportsmanship tempers the exuberance of victory and consoles in the disappointment of defeat.
Often, moments of national sporting success are the most memorable events in the collective memory of a generation; consider England’s football world cup triumph in 1966, Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal to seal rugby glory in 2003 or this year’s breathtaking conclusion to the cricket world cup.
With this in mind, beyond glamorous international spectacles, it is crucial that we support sporting participation at grassroots level throughout the year. Which is why the Government’s commitment to increasing the amount of time children spend doing physical activity when in school, doubling the PE and Sports Premium to £320million, is so welcome.
Just as humility in victory and generosity in defeat characterise the best of sporting endeavours, so it should be the means by which we cope with all kinds of life’s setbacks and obstacles. Such is the case with elections (or referendums for that matter!). In that spirit, most people I meet in South Holland and the Deepings – regardless of how they voted – accept the result of the 2016 referendum. How sad then that a minority of those who voted Remain won’t acknowledge that, in the biggest democratic exercise of modern times, they lost.
Whether in sport or in politics, humbly recognising what’s bound to be is always preferable to being a bad loser. In G.K Chesterton’s wise words: ‘Humility is the mother of giants’.