Why we have sport

This column was the recipient of an award last week, a fact that I would normally not mention with it being impossible to avoid the accusation of gross immodesty. But there is a tale to tell, and a good reason to tell it, which makes the revelation of the award unavoidable.

It was the occasion of the 28th SAB Sports Journalist of the Year awards and most of the country’s sports hacks were there. It was good to catch up, too, especially with those who work in different sports. What a pleasure to see Mark Gleason again – a giant in the soccer world, in every respect. And Simon Ramaphele, the voice of a velvet drum. And on the same table, Robert Murawe – rarely can excellence have been combined with humility in his way.

The venue, the Sandton Sun, was excellent. The entertainment was top-class (especially comedian John Vlismas) and the MC, John Robbie, was as professional and slick as any whom I have ever heard. Even the food was well above average for such a large function. Seriously, it was a feature rather than a by-product of the evening.

It came as a complete but extremely pleasant surprise when this column won its category: Sports column of the year. It also came with an extremely fine trophy and a framed certificate which, unexpected as it was, had to remain in Jo’burg until the next time I return with a larger, sturdier bag.

The trophy and commemorative beer glass, however, found a small space in my overnight bag for the journey back to Cape Town. All was good. Even with a modest hangover, the trip back home was a happy reflection on the year gone by. The great sadness and irony was that the SAB judges had awarded this column their prize because of something written the day after Bob Woolmer’s death in Jamaica during the World Cup. A dear friend for nearly 20 years. And I won an award for writing about it.

But things were still looking good when I checked in at OR Tambo, especially with an upgrade to Business Class by SAA. And the breakfast was genuinely good. Toasted sandwiches, nogal! I even had a ‘priority’ label attached to my overnight bag, always a bonus at the other end because the bag is off-loaded first.

But there I was at Cape Town International, amongst the last half dozen passengers, watching a couple of broken pram parts and a cardboard box circulate round and round the conveyor. Finally, my bag appeared. Opened. The beer glass and my toothbrush and shaving kit were gone. So what.

The interesting part, however, was that somebody had gone to the trouble of removing the award trophy, smashing it into several pieces, keeping a couple of random parts, and replacing it in my bag.

Theft is one thing – perhaps the baggage handler needed a shave or was desperate to clean his teeth. If there had been food or money in my bag, then it would be understandable. It’s the wanton destruction of something with no commercial value that baffles me. It must come from a deep anger, or frustration. Perhaps they were angry that ‘their bag’ contained nothing of value.
You see, being a journalist, I asked a couple of discreet questions at the airport. I couldn’t believe that bags could pass from aeroplane to conveyor belt without supervision. They can’t, I was told. One man told me that baggage handlers are given a ‘window of opportunity’. I have no idea whether that is true or not. It doesn’t matter.

Somebody smashed something commercially worthless and then placed it back in its bag, presumably because they had nowhere else to hide the evidence. Try and make sense of that.

And then I did. It was a reminder, I reckon, of why sport exists. When we reach the end of the week, we have the Super 14 to look forward to. When the angst and crap of our jobs gets too much, the weekend arrives and hands us 48 hours of sports escapism, even if it has to be the IPL. South Africa is far from perfect, very far – but we do get lots of sport. Of course, if you’re not into sport, it doesn’t help. But if you are, and you can’t make sense of something miserable, you can always tuck your head away from the real world (a la Thabo Mbeki) and watch the sport.

I considered asking SAB to help me in repairing the trophy – and it would be very nice indeed to see it again in its full glory – but perhaps it is better to keep it in its sorry, battered state. That way it will always be a reminder, if and when needed, of why sport exists. It can ease the pain, frustration and anger of everyday life.

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