Sunday, 25 January 2009

Unique To Humanity

There was a great article in New Scientist early last year on humanity and it's place in nature. As far as unique behavioural patterns go, sport was one of the few human endeavours that is so far unmatched in nature. The abstract organisation of competition under specified rules is something humans do, and it's a great means of enjoyment whether participating or watching.

Last night I went to an ice hockey match and immediately I felt at home. If it weren't for the fact that everyone is speaking Finnish I could have sworn I was at a sporting event in Australia. The vocal fans, the dedicated opposition supporters, the tribal colours, overpriced beer, advertising everywhere, cheerleaders (It must have been cold to be in such short skirts while dancing on the ice), constant advertising, even the chants where almost identical.

If anyone were to ask me what the universal constant of humanity is, sport would be my suggestion. The obvious tribalism at the very core of conflict, yet the spirit of fair play (though it's stretched slightly when one can smash another into the barrier of the rink) embodies what humanity is to me. The need for competition, to show one is better than another, for the chance for fans to live vicariously through the achievements of their team, yet at the end of it to shake hands is paramount to the human condition.

The game itself was quite scrappy for periods of time, the first two periods showed a few moments of brilliance but a rhythm couldn't be established. Plenty of goals though, it was 3-2 to the home team going into the final third. Then the game came alive and it felt more like a spectacle. 4-4 it finished in regulation time, and despite gaining a penalty in overtime, the home team couldn't convert and the game went to penalties. The shootout was miss after miss, but the away team finally got one in and they deservedly won the game. I was on the edge of my seat for the very end, that tense feeling I get watching football (soccer) was the same for this.

Even without knowing all the rules, I could get into the spirit of the game. What was happening was fairly easy to deduce, though occasionally I had to ask what was exactly going on. I didn't understand why the players rotated every couple of minutes or why some of the fouls were called, but that confusion didn't impair the enjoyment in the slightest. Sport is a wonderful expression of human nature.

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