Choose your champions, or why do we root for teams and athletes

Eugene Ravdin

Eugene Ravdin

A question I answer with the help from The Streets, George Orwell, and Proto-West Germanic dictionary.

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Why do we care about sports?

I do not mean why we do sports, there is no mystery in this for me. We want to be fit when the summer comes (or at least fitter). We want to like what we see in the mirror. We want to be strong and able, and not be out of breath when arriving at our door when the elevator is under maintenance.

We want to prove we can be better versions of ourselves. We also want to respect ourselves for being stronger, faster, wittier, and better than somebody else.

We want to compete, feel camaraderie, and forget our problems, big and small, if only for a couple of hours. We want to play.

Rooting for a team or an athlete is different.

You do not get better yourself, but you get something else, bar the pure enjoyment of watching the show that involves excellence and rivalry, honesty and cheating, and a lot of drama.

Elite sports, especially team sports, make you feel that you belong to something bigger than just yourself. "You were born alone, and believe me, you'll die alone", as The Streets sang, but people strive to belong to a group to fight this feeling.

Goosebumps! Spine tingling rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone by Liverpool fans and players

And the oldest trick to form a group is to dress them all in similar clothes with similar signs. Roman soldiers with their standards, punks in jeans or leather jackets with an "A" for anarchy, football fans in their team's jerseys waving their coats-of-arms on their scarves – it is all practically the same.

British novelist George Orwell, who is most known for his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, once called sports the "war minus the shooting." He did not mean it in a nice way, because the first part of the quote is: 

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.

Don't you think sports might have saved humankind from several local conflicts over the last couple of centuries? Elite sports are a way of stating your superiority without resorting to cutting someone else's head off. It is a (more or less) peaceful way of feeling pride for your street, town, city, or the whole nation.

Like the beautiful ladies of the Middle Ages, we choose our champions to fight for us so we do not have to take the arena ourselves. There is a good reason why the very word "champion" derives from Proto-West Germanic kamp which means "battlefield" or "battle."

But why we really idolize our favourite athletes, be it football, basketball, tennis, or Formula 1 racing, is because we dream of being them.

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Допис, поширений Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano)

I could have been Cristiano Ronaldo if only I had the talent... I could have made that dunk for the Boston Celtics if only I were 48 cm higher... Taylor Swift could have been my girlfriend if only I knew how to catch that oval ball...

From the early years, those who can be proudly called sports fans, imagine themselves scoring a cracker in the final, spraying champagne from the podium, basking in glory, and signing autographs.

We do not dream of having a career in pro sports, do we? We do not long for injuries, for two trainings a day, for self-doubts, or for remaining a fringe player throughout the whole career.

No, we just want to score and celebrate. And if we are not fit ourselves, well, then let this guy with the six-pack abs try and do this for us.

Review Author

Eugene Ravdin

Eugene Ravdin

Hey! I've been working for the official UEFA website for 18 years as a translator, reporter, editor, and language version editor in chief.

Reviewed by Head of Content

Vadims Mikeļevičs

Vadims Mikeļevičs

Vadims Mikeļevičs is an e-sports and biathlon enthusiast with years of writing experience about games, sports, and bookmakers.