Edward Seaga, Contributor
The origin of football is an interesting story. Many decades ago, the game was played with an 'inflated pig's bladder' as a ball. There were no rules, no marked field of play. Everyone ran around kicking the ball.
Around 1840, there was an attempt in England to have an agreement on rules. But in trying to do so, there were differences. One set wanted to provide for the use of the hand to pull down, or trip an opponent, or to carry the ball. Most others didn't think that this was part of what football should be, and it was rejected.
Those who wanted to use hands left the group and established their own game, rugby. So out of one game came another. On the other hand, those who stuck with the original concept went on to create the most popular game in the world, football.
Football is watched in every nation by millions of people and is popular because it involves team play; it's not a solo sport. It's a sport that has team activity with which people identify themselves, selecting the team that they want to win, and involving themselves in team activity as a social ingredient.
BRINGING ABOUT UNITY
Sport is also an agent of stabilisation. Only recently, because of internal hostilities, the Iraqi team, in preparation for qualification for the FIFA World Cup to be held in 2010, was not able to qualify within its own country because of internal hostilities. So they practised in Iran, and played qualification matches there. When they won and qualified, it was a time of rejoicing for the entire nation of Iraq, irregardless of whether they were Shi'ites or Sunnis. Everybody was together as one Iraqi people at that moment.
That stabilisation effect was even more evident when the United States found itself in a position of trying to find a diplomatic breakthrough in dealing with China. It was in the time of President Richard Nixon that the idea was conceived that a table tennis team from the United States should visit China to play a ping-pong tournament. Ping-pong is a rather lowly game on the scale of sports, but it's a game at which China excels, and there was enough proficiency in the United States to make a decent tournament.
The invitation was accepted; sufficient of the existing hostilities for the United States to follow with the resumption of relations with China. From there, the relations have continued to grow, all because of a game of ping-pong.
In Jamaica, there was the tragic example of two communities, Arnett Gardens and Tivoli Gardens, which were virtually at war for more than 20 years. And when I say 'at war', I mean 'at war', with numerous deaths and woundings. Residents could not enter the opposing community. This continued until the members of Parliament for the two adjoining communities got together.
The suggestion was made to stage a game of football to herald the new stadium that had been built in Arnett Gardens. The game was played, and from there on the two communities have had no more hostilities. People now move from one community to the other restoring friendships that existed before. Today, peace prevails.
Sport is perhaps one of the greatest levellers in society. It has been used to break down repulsive beliefs and behaviour. None of us can forget the horrendous era of apartheid in South Africa. People of colour couldn't play on white teams. Much of the international community banned South Africa from participating in international sports, and countries of the British Commonwealth did likewise. South Africa was isolated. This was not the only pressure that was brought on the South African regime, but it most certainly was one of the most effective.
Eventually, the regime backed off. From the resumption of normal relations, sports were opened to the performance and participation of athletes of various races and colour. I am also sure that the predominance of black athletes in many countries of the world helped to soften discrimination over the years, making it a lot easier to remove that offensive barrier in human relations.
Sport has also helped to break down gender barriers. It wasn't too long ago that there was no female football, or female basketball. Today, these are international sports that are acclaimed.
But sport is also a character builder. We can never forget that a group of men who were members of the Jamaica Defence Force got together at the instance of an American businessman in Jamaica and decided to enter the Winter Olympics in the bobsled category. But Jamaica had no snow. At the Winter Olympics, they were going to bobsled down a twisting course to glory or to defeat.
How did they do it? They practised for months by running on the sand with a wooden cart to develop leg muscles to cope with the most important part of the race: the push-off. A quick start is essential to a quick time.
In the first Winter Olympics which the Jamaican team was a novelty, getting a lot of exposure. The second one was in Canada, where they beat the host team, much to the dismay of locals. But it didn't end there.
By the third Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in Denmark, an American radio commentator made the point that if the Jamaican team should beat the US team, it would be the ultimate indignity. Well, they beat them. The next day, they were in demand by talk shows and radio stations in America. When I contacted them and told them that this would be a good way to build their brand, they said they had not seen the country, so they were going sightseeing. Today they regret that they didn't know about branding at that time, which is another activity essential to sport.
Sport also helps to build the identity of a nation as a brand. The incredible performance of the Jamaican Olympic athletes in Beijing amazingly covered all the sprints in the 100m and 200m races, only losing the 4x100m women's relay because a baton was dropped. As if this was not enough, the Jamaican team won more medals in London, a dozen, dominating the sprints again. This record had never been achieved before except by the leading athletic power, the USA.
After knocking at the door for many years, winning a couple of events, in general, Jamaica exploded with 11 medals in Beijing in 2008 and 12 in London, including nine gold medals and four world records over the two Olympics. This cemented the Jamaican athletic brand worldwide. Money cannot buy this quality of super talent and recognition.
See Part Two next week.
Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of UTech and a distinguished fellow at the UWI. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.