Friday, June 21Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

The leap of faith: the mess that is sport politics 

Fear, adrenaline, and the deep sea. Nothing exerts a bigger sensory overload of feeling alive. This raw emotion is as unwritten of an experience as one can feel and unknown every time. Like a fresh wound, familiar but always different. This is the feeling that I imagine surfers experience when confronted with the great Nazare.  

Nazare has been somewhat of a mecca for surfers since its commercial boom after Garrett McNamara’s world record run on its waves. Its unique large waves are accredited to the largest submarine canyon in Europe present just off the shore of Nazare. This acts like an amplifier for the incoming ocean swells forcing record breaking waves to form near the coast. In other words, surfing heaven!

But why should I care about Nazare? I hear you ask. 

Because it embodies everything great and endearing about sports but more importantly, highlights everything wrong with many commercial sports now. Freedom. 

Looking at sports news in recent weeks has just felt like looking at political news. The lies, mind games and unsportsmanlike behaviour cloud the enjoyment of sports. Qatar with its political controversies surrounding the development for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and F1 with its budget breechings regarding Red Bull’s Championships are only some high-profile political cases which are making headline news. 

Did you hear that the world record for largest surfed wave was broken in the summer of this year at Nazare? No, probably not. But are you aware of the political problems regarding the 2022 World Cup, most likely yes. That right there is the problem. 

Political controversies are news, absolutely, even when linked to a wider sporting event. But in sports reporting, is it not important that we also hear about sporting achievements?

That is why Nazare and the recent resurgence of surfing culture as a whole is so refreshing. It’s just people in harmony with nature, enjoying the sport like it was designed to be enjoyed. 

So why a leap of faith?

Surfers, especially ones daring enough to surf the Nazare waves, have a relationship with fear. Surfing some of the world’s largest waves requires a mentality to override fears. This unknown territory is what makes surfing at Nazare so exciting. You just have to go for it. 

This mentality has been somewhat lost in other sports, hence the political unrest surrounding them. A surfer confronts their fear by riding a wave that could crush them. Whilst politics in sport is like the wave that will crush you if you aren’t the solo entity ready to confront it. A leap of faith, it is all it takes to make that decision. One that seems to be absent in larger sports today. 

In some spheres, it may be more appropriate to forget about politics and just appreciate sport for what it is, a ground for people to showcase talent and push their bodies to the limit. Of course, it would be irresponsible for news outlets not to report on human rights abuses, of course – the role of the media in holding individuals and natures accountable cannot be disregarded. But with each event offering the opportunity for groundbreaking feats of athleticism, it is important that we do not lose the integrity of where global sports came from – a chance to put aside differences and celebrate sportsmanship on an international scale. 

This is why surfing is so magnetic. The lack of boundaries and possibility of control. You play by nature’s rules even if you don’t like it. No politics can dictate the outcome of riding a wave. Which leads back to fear and adrenaline.  Raw emotions which surfers conquer but politicians of sports seem to fall on. 

If there is anything to learn from recent news in sport, it is that sports should be left alone to be sports. It needs a new directional force, leading it to its more primitive roots. Like surfing, a fresh lease of life has been breathed into it by places like Nazare. No rules, only the ones which dictate the sport, nature. A set of rules and ethics which has been absent recently from other sports. Maybe it is time to take that leap of faith and turn a page on the mess that has become sport politics.