To Compete, You Must Be Prepared To Lose!

In every aspect of life those that are not prepared to lose must never compete. Winning and losing are like Siamese twins, they go together. Without one there cannot be the other.

This is very clearly reflected in sport where there are no guarantees. Anything can happen in a game to determine who wins and who loses. What is unchanging is that in order for a single winner to emerge from a contest involving many competitors, there must be an army of losers.

That is the lesson all sports persons learn along the course of their journey in sport, and all those involved know this as clearly as the back of their hands. From day one, we are fed on the diet of that realization until it becomes part of our DNA.

Take football for instance. In the world’s greatest and most beautiful game, everyone involved (the fans, the players, the managers, the coaches, those in the business, even the hooligans) lives with that realization that every passing day and with every single football match played on the planet, the vast majority of its participants have to lose in order for a very few to win. Indeed the world of football is populated by a majority of ‘failures’.

Yet the game has become the most followed sport and FIFA the most powerful body in the world! That’s why FIFA has more membership than any other organization in the world including the United Nations. At the last count, against the UN’s membership of 193 countries, FIFA boasts of 209!

The success of sport as one of the most influential social tools in the world lies with its power of fair play, transparency, and friendship. Once the rules are clear and unchanging, the umpires and officials are impartial, and the playing field is level for all, sport thrives. This is a lesson for mankind.

This thought is running through my mind this day. It is the eve of an annual competition I am involved in amongst some 3000 secondary schools in Nigeria, all of them seeking to become the national champion school in a football competition that involves some 60,000 young boys below the age of 17.

At the end of the ‘race’ only one school made up of 20 boys will cart away the prize and be declared the winner of the most coveted trophy at grassroots level in Nigeria.

In order for this to happen, however, all the 60,000 players know, even before the first ball is kicked, that at the end of the competition all the other 2,999 schools with their 5,980 football players must be defeated. That is the reality that confronts them every year – that they will probably not be one of the few that will take away the millions of Naira and scholarships, plus the likelihood of an invitation to the national Under-17 squad which is the springboard for many a life of fame and fortunes for the youngsters!

The stakes are really high even in this ‘little’ football championship for students in Nigeria.
Yet these students must all be ready to train for months with blood, sweat and tears, burn the midnight candle at both ends to make their academic grades, and yet be prepared to win or lose, and to do so in the spirit of sustaining a well-established and well-entrenched global tradition that continues to make football the most beautiful game in the world!
This brings me to the other related issue running through my mind.

NNPC/Shell Cup And The National Elections!

The stage is set for the 2015 NNPC/Shell Cup. At the same time, the country is also preparing for national elections to elect the people that will govern them for the next few years.

The entire country is gripped by fear and apprehension. The atmosphere is pregnant with the threats of war and of imminent anarchy. There is a massive migration of citizens from one part of the country to another in fear of the consequences of winning or losing the elections by the participating political parties. The climate is so much unlike that of sport.

I ask myself: are the elections, like sport, not a friendly contest? Are they not between political opponents but citizens of the same country? What really could be at stake that people should threaten fire and brimstone should their party or candidate lose an election? Is this not about service to the people? What is at stake that the prize for competing should be this high? Why should the entire country be turned into a theatre of conflict because of a contest that should be simple and straightforward in its conduct? Why would the people not embrace winning and losing as integral parts of their elections?

The present climate is simply because the rules are not very clear, the umpires are not impartial, the goal posts are being changed in the process leading to the elections, the playing field is not quite level, the guidelines for participating are been altered at the whims of powerful participants in the elections, and people doubt the integrity of the process and of those involved in running the show!

Add to all the above, the glaring inordinate ambition of a few persons determined to win by all means and at all costs. Now we are saddled with a recipe for anarchy, completely eroding the essence of true sportsmanship from the political contest.

Why must any group insist that they must win or the country will disintegrate? Why must we sacrifice lives and even the country because some people will not embrace the tenet that has driven and successfully sustained man’s most universally followed activity (sport) through the decades, transcending religion, race, ethnicity, economic status, population, politics and nationality – winning and losing as integral parts of every contest?

The student footballers in the 2015 NNPC /Shell Cup will kick off the tournament this week and  show them how this can be done!

In international sports, even enemies compete against one another and wars are not declared because one team wins and another loses.

At the height of the ‘war’ between the USA and Iran both countries met in a World Cup match. The whole world anticipated crisis but watched instead a truly thrilling and exciting match played at a frenetic pace that demonstrated just how badly both sides wanted to win, but which in the end, one side (Iran) won.

To the consternation and relief of the entire global audience, the players of both teams shook hands at the end of the match each either celebrating their hard won victory or licking the pain of their loss. Sport won where guns had failed.

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