I am interested why an otherwise rational person such as yourself, Prof. Singham, feels concern about a professional national team’s performance. What makes you feel connected to their defeat or victory?
It never made any sense to me why anyone cares about professional sports, other than tribalism or nationalism. How do you make an emotional connection between the little guys in the pictures, who are being paid to play a game, and “my team”?
I do enjoy occasionally watching professional sports because they are so super darned good. And all the weird musculature from the performance-enhancing drugs is kind of fun to look at. It’s the emotional connection that makes no sense to me at all.
I think Marcus may be crediting me with a higher level of rationality than I can rightfully claim. There are many things that I take an irrational like and dislike to, in the sense that I cannot justify them on the basis of a cold analysis and indeed do not even try to. Some things are just fun.
His question relates to professional sports in particular and allegiance to those teams. I will immediately concede that having an allegiance to a team, in the sense that one cares whether they win or lose even though there is no tangible gain or loss involved, is irrational. The only reason for such allegiance is because having one adds to one’s enjoyment of watching the game.
The things that one is passionately fond of when young are hard to shake off as an adult. As someone who as a child and a youth spent almost his entire free time playing, watching, reading, and listening on the radio about cricket, and developed a high appreciation for the subtleties and nuances of the game, my affection for the game remains strong. It remains one my sources of relaxation and pleasure, along with watching films and reading.
If one likes a sport, then it is at the professional level that one sees the highest level of skills on display. And having an allegiance to a team, however tenuous, adds spice to watching it because it gives one a vested, if intangible, interest in the outcome. So one picks a team based on some connection such as geography or other irrational link.
For example, I recently spent two days in California watching tennis. My daughter was playing for her club team in an amateur regional tournament and I was utterly absorbed because through her I had a sense of connection to her team even though I had just met her team members for the first time and may never see them again. The fact that they were members of my daughter’s team gave me enough of a link that I cared whether they won or lost this minor tournament and this added a level of tension that increased the enjoyment of being a spectator.
My connection to the Sri Lankan cricket team should be obvious since I was born there but it is not the only factor at play in choosing which team to root for in any given game. I tend to favor those countries that play the game in the proper spirit, which makes me like New Zealand. I have a soft spot for West Indies because though they have fallen on hard times recently, my formative years were spent thrilling to their combination of superb skills, frequently unorthodox play, and exuberant attitude. I also like underdogs and that varies from match to match. Sometimes these factors are in conflict for any given match. But since I really do not care all that strongly about the outcome, this does not matter. It is, after all, just a game and I enjoy seeing excellent play whoever does it.
I disapprove of hyper-partisanship where people are too quick to vent at umpires or other boorish behavior. Playing and watching in the best possible spirit is paramount. Sadly the professional level is also where poor sportsmanship is rampant and other negative factors such as cheating, drug-taking, and serious injuries become salient and if those are too great then I cease to be a fan. For example, I have turned away from American football because the danger to players is too great and the way that team owners extort cities is shameful. If negatives such as those or others become dominant in international cricket, I may abandon it too. The allegations of match fixing, for example, are a serious cause for concern.
So yes, my attachment to cricket is irrational. But I really don’t care. It’s just fun.