Author: Rohit Brijnath
Source: The Mint (https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/the-generosity-of-true-sportsmen-1563513345806.html)
Just as last Sunday’s double sport madness in London culminated with the insane end to the cricket world cup finals and the rivetting five-setter Wimbledon men’s singles finals, one could crave for how Rohit Brijnath, one of the best writers of sport prose, capture this on paper. Unsurprisingly, he does a brilliant job, taking the real essence in the end (which what most people would consider bitter) – that which every sportsman should take away as a key lesson. The composure of the two protagonists who ended up on the losing side – Roger Federer and Kane Williamson during the post- match press conference and their eloquence about what it meant to them brought out the best elements of sportsmanship – being graceful in defeat.
“…It is Tuesday morning and I am watching videos of their press conferences again, sifting through their transcripts, reading lines and between them, because—like you perhaps— I am so taken by these men. Grace is a precious thing.
If you haven’t already, watch those videos, it’s like attending a class on perspective, it’s a study in sporting loss, it’s a series of verbal snapshots of pain, resolve, misery, humanness. It’s Williamson never using the word “luck” and gently pushing away a question about whether the ricochet off Ben Stokes’ bat was a rule that should change. He just answers, and answers, because it’s his job, because he’s a leader, because people want immediate insight, all of us admirers but also voyeurs.
Let’s make copies of these videos and send them to schools, to young athletes, coaches, administrators, parents, teams. Youngsters need to appreciate every part of sport, especially this, the professionalism of showing up and looking the questioner in the eye. The strength that it requires to be honest, to let people glimpse your despair and also witness your conviction. On their worst days, the great athlete is only beaten, not broken.
Federer insists that “for now it hurts and it should”. He bares himself and says: “I don’t know what I feel right now. I just feel like it’s such an incredible opportunity missed, I can’t believe it.” And yet, as athletes incredibly do, he finds positivity amidst the pieces, and says: “(You) take it on your chin, you move on. You try to forget, try to take the good things out of this match. There’s just tons of it.”
Someone who doesn’t follow tennis asked, why do people like Federer? One reason is his generosity, his sustained willingness to be a tennis evangelist, his refusal to simply play and leave but in fact speak and expound, advertise his sport and clarify his craft. If he plays 75 matches a year, that means 75 post-match interviews for print writers, in multiple languages, plus radio and television, not to mention one-on-ones, and sometimes pre-event interviews, everyone scrambling for his minutes, assaulting him with familiar questions, and yet he makes an effort to provide a worthy answer.
And so he does on this day, praising Novak Djokovic’s backhand, discussing his schedule, but mostly being a willing participant in this autopsy of his heartbreak. Like Williamson, he’s given enough effort this day but here is more. And so both of them sit there, great athletes tripped by fickleness, toppled by a tiny margin, undone by their own frailties, not gods, just imperfect men bringing dignity to defeat. There is no better way to meet it.
Williamson’s final question is from a journalist who states he’s standing to ask the question because he respects the Kiwi. Then he appears to ask, rather amusingly but sweetly, if Williamson thinks everyone should be a gentleman like him.
“Everybody are allowed to be themselves,” replies Williamson amidst some hilarity. “That is a good thing about the world. And everybody should be a little bit different as well. Really difficult question to answer. That is probably my best answer, just be yourself and try and enjoy what you do.””
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