By Gyan C .A. Fernando “Success is not really important. Everyone loves success. Everyone wants to do things well. But we all know that people are really good at doing things badly. Failure is the thing that we are best at. This is the difference between people and animals and we must not think that [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The sportsman in me and other beasts


By Gyan C .A. Fernando

“Success is not really important. Everyone loves success. Everyone wants to do things well. But we all know that people are really good at doing things badly. Failure is the thing that we are best at. This is the difference between people and animals and we must not think that failure is bad.”- Stephen Pile the author of, ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’

I was never good at sports or I was good at it. It is a matter of opinion. I achieved my first major and historical victory in the field of sports; a long, long time ago in August 1959,when I came last in the Sack Race at the Sports Meet day at my old school, cheered by all!

I had started off well and was doing well as the “one-before-the-last” when an unsporting guy, who was running last, overtook me just 10 yards from the finish! I hit him! It is not easy to win a fistfight when standing in a sack. In retrospect I think that he did me a great favour.

To this day more people remember me than they do the winner of the Sack Race, whose name even I have forgotten.Nobody cared about the guy who won!

They all cheered me! 
I had gained fame in the field of Sports!
Nobody likes a winner

The Sports Meet day was a major event in the school calendar in those days. There was a lot of preparations beforehand and the fact that this was a combined event, with the girls of the Convent School next door taking part, gave us a good deal of impetus. I did enjoy the Sports Meet but winning was not uppermost in my mind.

My Uncle Damien, who was only about seven years older than I am, was also a good sportsman and excelled himself by coming last in the bicycle race.

He had style, though. He had removed the mudguards from his bicycle in the belief that it improved the aerodynamics (correct!) and that it would impress the girls (wrong!). He probably realised his mistake when it rained heavily just before the start of the race and the whole track became mired. As the race started, we could see that he was in some difficulty. The unguarded wheels sprayed up mud. 

He crossed the finish line last, covered in mud and looking like a Swamp Beast from a cheap horror film.
Needless to say that Uncle Damien got a standing ovation, probably very much to his surprise!
Whilst most people’s memory of winners can be short, it is remarkable that losers quite often leave enduring memories. I am sure you have heard of “Eddy the Eagle” Eddie, who had never seriously skied before but managed to compete in the Olympics.

My hero, Senhor Irandir

Then there is my all-time sporting hero Senhor Isidore Irandir, who is famous in his native country of Brazil. Strongly religious, he was the goalkeeper in an important fixture between his team Rio Preto of Sao Jose, against Corinthians of Sao Paulo at the Bahia Stadium in the 1970’s.

An un-sporting striker in the opposing team, Roberto Rivelino, whose name nobody really cares to remember, took control of the ball and kicked it from the halfway line as soon as the referee blew the whistle to start the match. 

Our hero, Senhor Isidore Irandir, meanwhile, had other important things on his mind. “The ball went past the ear of Senhor Irandir, while he was on his knees finishing pre-match prayers in the goalmouth”. The goal went in exactly three seconds from the start of the match, classing it as one of the fastest goals in the history of the game!

Maybe that was God’s funny way of making Senhor Irandir famous.Senhor Irandir subsequently received the title of “The Most Religious Goalie”.

My other hero, Sanjeeva

My only son, Sanjeeva, was a bit of a disappointment in sports in that he excelled in everything that he took part in, causing considerable friction on the homefront. He would come first in everything and would come home with all sorts of trophies. This made him rather full of his own importance.

His forte happened to be long distance running, by the way. It was a serious disappointment to me. I told him about my “win” in the Sack Race. “Shut up, Dad” he said. There were arguments between Father, Son and Mother.

I had more or less given up on him when one day, completely out of the blue, he entered the record books!
At an important meet and at the starter’s signal Sanjeeva was nowhere to be seen. It later transpired that he was actually still “warming up” at the other end of the field when he realised it was time to get to the starting line. By the time he realised this and sprinted to the starting line, his fellow runners were fast disappearing over the horizon. Ha! Ha! Ha!Ha! Ha! Ha!Ha! Ha! Ha!

Hopefully, this incident taught him good sportsmanship: That of losing!
At this point I would like to get back to my own career as a brilliant, all-round sportsman.At the time I lost…, or rather won the Sack Race, I had no interest in girls. Things of course changed and by the time pimples appeared on my face I had developed an interest in sports. The reasons should be obvious.
All my friends were good in all types of sports. Wije could play both Football and Cricket at the same time and Sumana, in spite of his short stature, could play centre forward whilst being referee as well. Terry played basketball and frequently dislocated his Coraco-Acromial joint, otherwise known as the “Shoulder Joint”, and eventually worked out how to re-locate it himself in mid-play! Ugh!

I myself excelled in cricket and my days as a great cricketer deserve another page on another day. I played clean cricket and nobody approached me with wads of money to fix matches.
I never accepted a packet of jujubes!

This brings me to the subject of unsporting behavior, doping and match fixing. Remember the three Pakistani cricketers, including their captain Salman Butt who received jail sentences for throwing deliberate no-balls? In my retirement from sports, I am pleased to report that I made a name for myself without ever having to resort to any of these unsavoury practices. 

The persistent rumour that I was paid 50 cents and a small pack of jujubes to come last in the Sack Race is totally and utterly without foundation!

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