My heart is hurting. Our collective heart is hurting.
Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been forced to stare into the face of unprecedented hatred, horror and tragedy in our beautiful Aotearoa. And it can seem trivial to be thinking about sport today.
The truth is, there’s no roadmap for situations like this. However you’re feeling, it is valid, and needs to be acknowledged. When times are hard, and we feel upset, scared and vulnerable, we turn to things which comfort us. And for many Kiwis, sport is a familiar comfort.
Sport can be both the least and most important thing after an event like this. The results don’t matter, as real life reminds you that a one-point loss isn’t really ‘heartbreaking’. T.J Perenara said reiterated this after playing last night, when the country was still reeling from the news. “[The result] wouldn’t have have been the most important part of my day… today was bigger than rugby.”
After all, it’s just a game. It doesn’t matter, in the grander scheme of things. But what is important, especially now, is the collectivity of sport.
Sports sees people of all races, religions and orientations come together for a common purpose. Together we ride the highs and lows of a performance as a shared emotion. Thousands of people are as one, for 80 mins or 100 overs or four quarters. The only colour that matters is the one on your chest. It’s a shared, collective experience which is rich in sociocultural connection.
The Warriors rightly identified this and opened the gates for their season-opening match tonight, free for all to come together, and be together. When you feel helpless and hopeless, coming together with others who feel the same way can be healing. It’s a distraction.
Distraction can have a negative connotation, but not in this sense. It could be easy to fall into a void of pain and numbness, disbelief and horror. The hole ripped into the fabric of our nation is enormous, and we could easily succumb to that. To have anything which momentarily takes you away from that is necessary, emotionally. Be it music, the innocent giggle of a child, or the excitement of a crowd after a winning goal, those small moments hold essential glimmers of hope and strength. It’s natural to want some hope, and cling to anything which resembles normalcy. Normalcy equals security.
We need sport to be played in this country now more than ever.
That said, it was 100% the right decision to cancel the cricket test. When you think of what the Bangladesh team experienced, and just how close it was to being so much worse for them, you can understand why playing cricket is the furthest thing from their mind.
Not only were they nearly involved, but this is their religion. It’s more than a shooting to them, it’s an attack on their beliefs and way of life which will impact them deeper than we non-Muslim kiwis could ever imagine. In no way would they be prepared to compete for one day, let alone five, in a place so close to where the tragedy occurred. Getting them home to be with their families was the only decision which could be made.
The same can be said for the Crusaders, due to face the Highlanders in Dunedin. Once again, their city has been through immeasurable pain, and out of respect for all who have been affected – victims, their families, first responders, children in lock down – home is more important than rugby tonight. Knowing the passion Cantabs have for their rugby, it won’t be a surprise to see the Crusaders become an outlet for a healing provincialism, just as they were following the earthquakes.
Sports also send a wider message. We are here, and we’re not letting you stop us. We can hurt, we can be devastated, but we can also rise.
There is a great ESPN documentary touching on this very topic, Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11. In it, the role sports of in America, particularly in and around New York City, is documented as an important aspect in getting a mourning country back on their feet.
The scale of their tragedy was much bigger than ours, but the hurt was the same. And just like we’ve seen here, sports were on hold for a few days while people battled to comprehend what had happened to their city and nation, and also, while security at large public gatherings could be guaranteed once more. But soon, America needed something to believe in again.
The documentary covers everything from baseball to NASCAR, and highlights the significance of President Bush’s first ceremonial first pitch in the World Series only a few weeks after the attacks. It features players, everyday fans, and friends and family members of victims who were guests of their respective teams. They talk about what it meant to have some sense of normalcy in a world which was forever-changed. How it felt to have a stadium full of people singing the national anthem as a form of love, strength and defiance. And how it felt to have standing ovations for brave first responders who thought of nothing else but saving lives.
And let me make it clear. Whatever the reason we cling tightly to sport in this time, we must not let how we’re feeling right now ever fully leave us. This disgust, this horror, this nausea, this love, this inclusion, this collectivity – this cocktail of emotions must drive us to ensure nothing like this ever happens again, exhibited through everyday inclusion and love, and not walking by everyday micro-hate.
In the meantime, come through, sport. We need you more than ever.
Follow Heather on Twitter