Is he a True Sportsman?

Is he a True Sportsman?

I have never heard of such a thing in the West. Sometimes in all sports contests one man wins by amazing luck against a clearly better man. But that is accepted. It is simply part of life. Even a very strict sportsman would accept it and not feel that he must try to change a result. In this Judo tournament, an English sportsman would probably think: ‘After all, I drew with him in our contest. His previous wins may have been against weaker opponents than I met’.

Of course, there may be difficult decisions in sportsmanship. As a student I became fairly strong at chess and in later years I was in the BBC team. Every year the British champion gave a simultaneous exhibition against about 20 BBC players. I had the satisfaction of drawing against him four times. One of our team was a former Hungarian, now a naturalized Briton, whom I will call ‘T’. He was very strong at correspondence chess, in which moves were exchanged by letter. The players had one or two days to think between each move, so the games became very complicated. ‘T’ became a member of the British team at that.

One year a correspondence team match was arranged between the British team and the Soviet team, then the strongest in the world. Every two days, a radio link was set up between Moscow and London, and the moves of the British team, or the Soviet team if it was their turn, were all sent together. ‘T’ would decide his move and telephone it to the British end of the link. Then two days later, his Soviet opponent’s reply would be read out to him.

One day, ‘T’ said to me, ‘I want your advice as an English sportsman’. I felt a bit embarrassed, but he went on: ‘I’ve had a cable from my opponent in Moscow saying that his last move was a mistake. He wants to substitute a better one. Should I agree?’  To his evident surprise, I said: ‘No, you and he are members of a team. He should be more careful. Go on, and win’.  But is that sportsmanlike?’ he asked. ‘Poor fellow, he made a mistake’.  Don’t be sentimental’, I said. ‘He is a tough professional, probably. And he is not a sportsman. No true sportsman would ask such a thing’.

‘T’ looked disappointed in me. Perhaps he was wondering whether I really was an Englishman. He did allow the Moscow man to amend the move, and the game was a draw. From my point of view, ‘T’ was simply sentimental. True sport means to try very hard and then to accept win or loss without being at all upset. In this way it is a good training for life.

But this is part of a pattern, and it is not spontaneous like the Japanese examples. Some say that such things do not happen today, but they do. I know that many Japanese are hard, scheming, ruthless, backbiting, like the rest of us humans. But occasionally the heart is lightened by seeing one of these independent acts, like a flower on a muck-heap. In most countries people do not put flowers on top of a muck-heap, but one can see it even today in Japan.



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