The Sporting Spirit

Roman mosaic of two bikini-clad woman playing ball (close up)

I love mosaics. Just look at this one from Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The villa can be traced back to 320-350 A.D, so we’re talking 4th Century, A.D. The villa where each room had exquisite floors with figures and motifs made up of mosaics probably belonged to a member of Rome’s senatorial class. He’s someone of high class and exquisite taste. I say ‘he’ because Roman senators were always male. Archeologists have said that from the handiwork, the construction of these floors were made by artists from the African continent, particularly North Africa. The evidence comes from the mosaics’ varying styles and narratives spanning from mythology and to Homeric poems. 

This one is my favourite. It’s a close up showing two bikini-clad women playing a game involving a ball. Beach volley, perhaps? 

I love how modern the scene is, considering that this was made well over 1,500 years ago. I’m imagining that it is a hot day in Sicily, a summer’s day. The locals are out enjoying the sea air and playing games at the beach. Bikini-clad bodies are everywhere during the summer months of July and August on Italian beaches. These are the two months that Italians go to the sea

That women still play ball in bikinis or are expected to do so is, of course, sexist. I can’t believe that the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined for not wanting to play in bikinis. In the 21st century too. Come on, people! I hate it that sexism still exists. 

I love mosaics. I love how little bits of ceramic, glass or stone can be used to make a bigger picture. But I hate jigsaw. Love vs Hate — two very basic human feelings. There is no better a place and time when this binary human emotion is displayed than in the sporting arena. 

George Orwell said it best, “[…] sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will….” 

You’ve just got to look at what happened after England lost the European Cup recently. Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were booed, bullied and blamed for England’s defeat. 

If you’ll allow me another quote: “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield.”

Here’s George Orwell’s full essay. Read it and weep because it is so insightful, intelligent and eloquent. 

Orwell is a pacifist, it would seem. The battefield he mentioned in his essay was still in his mind for the essay was first published in December 1945. The Second World War had ended only two months earlier. Today’s battlefield is the internet. The battles taking place in this battlefield is a war of words. Some may even say, a war of the thumbs and fingers. Keyboard warriors bashing other keyboard warriors, other keyboard warriors defending other ones, with many venting their frustrations online for the world to read. The screen has become a shield of sorts. 

The world is now glued to their TV screens watching the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Team GB did very well in swimming. Adam Peaty won a gold for GB and “became the first British swimmer to retain an Olympic title”, the BBC says. What Peaty retained was the gold medal for the men’s 100m breaststroke. 

In other parts of the world, on a small island in the tropics, where skyscrapers sweep the skies and migrant workers sweep the roads and pavements, a swimmer named Joseph Schooling was booed, bullied and blamed for not ‘defending’ his gold medal in Tokyo. Schooling is Singapore’s golden butterfly. He became Singapore’s first Olympian champion after he took home a gold medal in Rio for the the men’s 100m butterfly in 2016.

Here’s a stroke by stroke analysis of Joseph Schooling’s performance that only Singapore can do so well. Analyse, analyse, analyse and learn, learn, learn. 

Being a champion is not easy. Being the first to win a gold for one’s country is not easy. There are now expectations and hopes placed on the champion to retain his title. Expectations add pressure to say the least. And Joseph Schooling went to Tokyo with this pressure on his shoulders. 

What many people in Singapore weren’t expecting were the many hurtful and frankly, pathetic comments made online about Joseph Schooling’s performance in Tokyo. Comments, for example, alluding to the state of Singapore having paid to train Schooling. This prompted Schooling’s supporters: friends, fans and family to go public about the truth. There’s integrity in putting people in their places when they’ve been unreasonable or plainly unintelligent. 

Jospeh Schooling paid for his own training. Not one cent of Singapore taxpayer’s money went into sending Jospeh Schooling to America to be educated and trained in swimming. His scholarship at another American educational institution was paid for by taxpayer’s, yes. But it was NOT taxpayers of Singapore that funded this, since the university where Schooling received his schooling and scholarship was situated in Texas. 

I feel compelled to write this post because it aggrieves me that once again, Singapore has made the local headlines (see this post for another reason) for some citizens’ pig-headed and pig-hearted comments. Instead of choosing to be empathetic, some small-minded, myopic and rather annoying Singaporeans have chosen to be pathetic. And, on social media too. Of all things to mimic, some Singaporeans would choose to mimic equally small-minded, myopic and unintelligent racist Britons. 

RACE TO RIO, David Seow

So, instead of griping, grinching and grinding your teeth over Schooling’s performnce in Tokyo, read this instead. It’s a picture book by veteran picture book author Dave Seow. RACE TO RIO is a creative nonfiction picturebook tracing Joseph Schooling’s steps to being Singapore’s Gold Medalist in the 100m men’s butterfly. 

Then, take a look at this touching photograph and weep. A champion will always be a champion no matter what some losers say.

Jospeh Schooling being comforted by his coach,  Sergio Lopez Miro.