Thursday, August 2, 2012

this means war

So, the Olympics are on. Well duh!

And from the vibe on facebook, I reckon every other Aussie is as disappointed with the free to air coverage as I am. So much swimming!!! Surely that's not our only event?!!

But it's not just the coverage I've been slightly depressed about.

What's with the poor sportsmanship at the Badminton?!

Basically, the way the tournament has been designed this year means that China can't win all the medals or something. Boo hoo. So, when the Chinese were supposed to be playing Korea yesterday, instead of just forfeiting, they turned up BUT BARELY PLAYED PROPERLY. They got nothing but net for service after service INTENTIONALLY, and eventually were warned by the umpire that if they didn't play properly, they'd be disqualified.

I said I was disgusted with this behaviour, so, cue hour long 'discussion' (ok, we were arguing, but we love to do that, so don't think, 'emotional blackmail at 20 paces', think more, 'passionate discussion') with my housemate Phil. Phil wanted me to have sympathy for the teams because strategically, they were making a good move in the context of the tournament. Which is true. BUT, I still believe playing poorly on purpose is unsportsmanlike because sport is war. War is life. Life is unfair, therefore, sport is unfair.

Do you follow?

Probably not, because my philosophy of sportsmanship is not logical at all. Phil is right. If China want to win all the medals, they've got to play the tournament, not the game, to ensure they get the top three spots. (He'd have to explain the mathematics to you, I have to hold all my fingers in front of me and move invisible tokens in the air to understand it. Let's just take it as a given that, because of the maths, China would ultimately win more if they lost in the short-term.)

But even though it's correct, I still hate it!! It seems so wrong to me to intentionally lose to gain advantage for yourself.

After an hour or so (it was somewhere past midnight by this point. Not super surprised, Phil has combat mechanisms on the brain over at Pack of Heroes where he's designing a game), Phil asked a fascinating question. Why am I fixated on this idea that you should just give it all you've got, every time, no matter whether at the tournament level it's advantageous to rest on your laurels for a while? Ie, why can't you intentionally slack off every now and again?

And for the answer, I have to dig deep into my psyche.

Is it a hangover of Protestant work ethic? (Sadly, I have no work ethic, so that can't be it...)

Is it because I'm scared I'll lose? Well, yes... But there's more to it than that...

I/we concluded it's because in general, I approach all of life as an underdog. Just like Baghdatis at the Australian Open, I'm unseeded, I don't know what I'm capable of, and nobody else does either, but the odds would suggest that the classic favourites will beat me. Translating this out of sport for a moment, I'm not pretty enough or rich enough or socially powerful enough just to skate, so, I have to try (at least, that's what it's like in my own head...). And I have to try all the time, because just like war, it's win or lose. Either you kill them, or they kill you.

Again, Phil is right, this is totally illogical, because if you've got to conquer a small village before you take on a big city, then you don't squander all your energy, soldiers and resources on quashing the village.

But in my head, I would. Cos to me, even the small village is a major threat...


The point is, in my mind, the whole world is the field at Agincourt, and I am Henry the 5th.

The English army, or what's left of it, is with me. We've marched through a horrid French autumn, it's been wet, cold and muddy. We're half starved, we're mostly untrained, and the French are in fighting form. They've got home ground advantage AND, shiny armour. We. Are. Screwed.

And that's why the absolute triumphs of Shakespeare's Henry 5th are the bookends of the battle, the St Crispin Crispian's Day speech and the 'victory' speech at the end.

The Crispian's Day soliloquy strips layer upon layer of clay from the frail pots of the English army to at last reveal the bold light of truth, sacrifice, nobility and right underneath. Yes the odds are against them, yes, they're hungry, yes as a 21st century observer I totally disagree with their justification of war and I'm not totally crash hot on the effects of it either, BUT, they are standing for right (so they think), and thus, despite the terror, should fight, because they will be proud to show their wounds, the cost of their sacrifice for right.

Huzzah huzzah!!!

But Henry is still shit scared. That's why, in the early hours of the morning, before the dawn speech, he's on his knees, in the mud, pleading with Almighty God to fight on their side. He knows he's the underdog by a long way, and needs divine intervention.

So, the English go out and give it their all, and, in an absolute shock victory, by a margin so incredible it's almost laughable, they win.

They win!!

Everyone expected the French to win, including the French. Even though the froggy bastards went and killed all the messenger boys behind the lines (yes Matt, as per your comment like, two years ago, I will one day do a post on Billy's racism! ;-).

Underdog triumphs is the order of the day, and they approached the battle in the right way, ie, to the last breath.

And thus the incredible, but totally understated beauty of Henry's closing remarks. He orders that masses be said for the dead, and that the non nobis be sung.

For those of us who didn't learn Latin at private school, or aren't pre Vat Two RCs, the words of the non nobis can be roughly translated as,

"Not to us Lord,
not to us,
but to you,
be all the glory."

It's the opening of Psalm 115 and it's the perfect cry of the underdog who triumphs.

Henry/underdogs everywhere/me could try to take the credit for our victory. Surely it was by our unexpected strength we vanquished our enemy. Surely the stirring speech we made to the troops did the job. Surely it's because we're awesome that we'll just win the badminton anyway. We did it!!


It is never by our own strength, whether physical or otherwise that we triumph. Even our strength is given to us by the hand of the Lord.

So, perhaps I also baulk at the idea of slacking off intentionally (not involuntarily, that's a whole other thing!) is because your opportunities, body, skills, talents, life have been GIVEN to you, as a gift, for a while, so you're supposed to use them for God's glory. Not just to sit on your arse. You're meant to use your resources.

So anyway, Henry the 5th is the reason I don't like the poor showing at the badminton. Or something. ;-)

Non nobis Domine, Domine. Non nobis Domine. Sed nomini, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam. 


  1. Not to side with Phil on this one, but from a performance point of view it may have been the right strategy but the wrong intent behind it.

    From a performance point of view, dialing back the intensity of your performance in the semis, when you can get through easily on 80% input, is a good strategy for saving yourself for the final push. But it's not that they were saving their energy, but that they were deliberately fixing it so they could face weaker competitors in the semis to give them a walk into the final.

    It behooves one not to exhaust yourself before the finals, but that wasn't actually their intention. Their intention was to try and control who they would be facing and when.

    The real wrong behaviour here is seeking to fix the outward situation to your advantage rather than doing your best in the situation you are given. Maybe doing your best does in fact mean resting your body in the semis for the final, since you know you can make it through easily. But it isn't right to have so much contempt for your competitors you think of them as chess pieces to be maneuvered in a meta-game, a game in your own mind, as if you could even do such a thing.

    But that's the real nature of our sinful selves, trying to wrestle control of situations out of God's hands and into our own. It's not just poor sportsmanship, it's human arrogance.

    1. This is very true Dianne! And Phil was emphatic that it's not always "schemey bastard behaviour" (my phrase, not his!) to not put in 100%. But yes, the chess pieces/meta-game thing deffo is a characteristic of human arrogance!

  2. I have no comment about the Olympics - I really have no idea what you're talking about ... Badminton???

    But I LOVED this post - can't wait to read your book :)