In the recent cricket semifinal match, my school fought back gallantly to give the incumbent champions a run for their money in a game that went down to the wire. Nevertheless, our opponents eventually won it at the death, despite us staging a rousing comeback when we seemed dead and buried. Seeing sheer dejection plastered all over my teammates’ faces and tears from habitually cheerful people amidst relieved celebrations from the other camp in the background got me wondering if there is indeed such a thing as a glorious defeat.
Is there something innate in human nature that welcomes tough competition and a difficult challenge? Why else are close victories so much sweeter and slender defeats so much harder to swallow? Maybe it is the thought that defeat was a very stark possibility and that victory just slipped through your fingers that amplifies the ecstasy of victory and compounds the bitterness in defeat respectively. However, the fine line between winning and losing presents a harsh reality for the losing side. In the words of the supremely controversial yet highly respected football manager Jose Mourinho, “Almost is nothing.” Nearly winning is just not the same as winning. When all is said and done there is hardly any recognition for the defeated side, virtually no positives in a ‘glorious defeat’ simply because the sour taste of what could have been trumps most other upsides to that defeat. Second place is indeed first loser.
The old adage to ‘play hard and play fair’ is probably – in principle at least – the single most important pre-requisite for a respectable and legitimate victory. Yet history is cluttered with examples of defining moments in which an unfair advantage was garnered through underhanded means. Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ incident that knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup springs to mind, as well as British Airways’ ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Virgin Airways alongside the incessant smattering of doping scandals plaguing the sporting world. While the propagation of this ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality has helped raise performance levels to unprecedented heights, it has also served to sully sporting ideals when cheats cross the line. Another question springs to mind here: is sportsmanship a luxury and not a necessity? Is it impossible to play hard but fair? Some say that sports is about pushing limits, yet I believe that there are boundaries and limits to what is acceptable in the process of breaking those limits and chasing those records. Ultimately, one’s conscience must be clear. We must be able to live with whatever we do. And that is for each individual to decide.
Numerous contests in the history of mankind have been decided by luck. The difference between winning and losing can sometimes be so small, so marginal that luck becomes a huge factor in settling the outcome of a competition. Derek Redmond, the British sprinter and favourite for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics 400m semifinal sprint tragically tore his hamstring halfway through the race. After years of sacrifice to pursue a career in athletics, this race should have ended in victory for him, but he was sadly denied the victory he deserved as a result of utter bad luck. Skill and heart does not always ensure success although their importance is irrevocable; chance becomes a greater factor the closer the contest is.
You could say that the 300 Spartans and 4000 Greeks who died defending the narrow pass against the vast Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae had a glorious defeat. After all, they slew a much larger number of Persian soldiers and held out for 7 days despite insurmountable odds. Yet this was in many ways a victory, since their sacrifice inspired the rest of Greece to unite and drive off the Persian invaders. It was indeed glorious, but it was not a defeat. At the end of the day, the winners have won and the losers have lost. That said, ‘Success is never eternal, failure is never fatal,’
Nicholas Foo has been thinking big and kicking ass since ’93.
Image taken from here.