Nothing passes the time quite like watching other people try to immortalise theirs.
The when and where does not even matter. Be it in the ancient amphitheatres of Rome or the modern stadiums of Australia, the pull of spectator sports remains invariably tied to us for the better part of history.
In her Quest paper, The Symbolic Dimensions of Spectator Sport, Dr. Margaret Carlisle Duncan delves into the psychology behind witnessing competition, why people gravitate towards large and loud arenas, and how deep the connection between spectator sports and human nature truly runs. We see this subject as particularly intriguing and one that frankly hits close to home. This is why we have arranged a pared down version of Dr. Margaret Carlisle Duncan’s findings below.
According to the study, spectator sports carry such appeal mainly because they fulfil the following goals:
Mirroring Life Itself
Having a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’ is such a recurring, relatable aspect of spectator sports. It is (too) easy for people to draw parallels within the game into their personal lives. Conflict is predetermined, allowing people to savour victory as immediately as they can move on from bitter defeats. Spectating provides people with a chance to feel the endgame of real-life conflict, without having to slog through endless complications first.
Athletics, in a vacuum, is a measure of ability. Everything else — the attitude, the dedication, the accolades — are secondary. Those things only matter upon winning. Winning, of course, is only possible with superior ability. There is a certain pride in witnessing another person do something we ourselves cannot, which brings us to the next point…
Now, this dimension of spectator sports is more dynamic. People actually have a say on how much viewing pleasure they derive from any particular event. Spectating with friends, with food, or with bets are all up to the audience, and this type of freedom is unique in itself.
There is a way of conducting yourself during a game that does not exactly go over well in any other circumstance. Cheering, heckling, and fighting are all a bit more understandable in the context of a spectator sport. In a way, watching games functions as an excusable rebellion against the more rule-bound setting of life.
Reinforcing Religious and Political Beliefs
In sports, idolisation is a culture. Because of this, millions of very different people can share in the adoration of teams or sports figures. With public interest, of course, comes scrutiny, opening the athletes’ respective organisations and personal lives to politicising. On the other hand, the more detached viewers tend to gauge prospects of victory according to intangible metrics, such as ‘heart’ and ‘spirit’, similar to faith and religion.
Spectator sports may very well endure as long as humanity exists, and we do not think anybody would bother complaining, especially when our instincts dictate every day as game day.
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