Everyone loves sport. Well, almost everyone. All sports don't have to be competitive. Some can be for recreation, and others past time. Sports enthusiasts are passionate people, and it’s passion that drives their pursuit. Some continue to play, while others would have played in their younger days.
The Euro 2020 football and the World Test Championship cricket final have kept us riveted to the television. The whopping viewership is a huge testament to the lure of sport.
We asked Gulf News staffers about their favourite sport and why they pursue it. Here’s what they said.
Of Neil Diamond, swimming and cycling: And the joys of being alone
Meher Murshed, Executive Editor
What a beautiful noise
Comin' up from the street
Got a beautiful sound
It's got a beautiful beat
It's the song of the cars
On their furious flights
But there's even romance
In the way that they dance
To the beat of the lights
It's a beautiful noise
And it's a sound that I love
The dark night is lit up by the silvery moon and a fountain seems to reach for the sky. The waters of the lake sing a soft rustle. Cars zip past, some quietly, some with a temper as they honk impatiently at the traveller in the vehicle front, cruising at a speed even a snail would frown at, attending to a mobile phone and its messages.
Neil Diamond is in one ear of mine as I pedal away, savouring one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time, and relishing the bustle and quiet of the evening at a steady pace. The wind in my face, a tune in my soul. Cycling is freedom. A freedom I cherish, night after night. And they say it is good for the heart and mind too.
The ocean is a teal blue, serene, inviting and yet fierce — it’s a sound that I love. The Sun’s rays dance on its surface. And below the calm waters, a symphony of colours plays out. Fish of a myriad hues, some in bright neon, others striped, negotiate the mighty ocean without a bat of the eyelid or a gasp. A shark darts away into the deep blue depth. I swim past in wonder. This is a spiritual commune. The waters of the ocean sing to my soul. There isn’t a need for an earphone. This is sublime peace. This is freedom. It frees my soul of the tethers of the everyday grind.
Swimming, especially in the ocean with its bounty, and cycling, with music thrown into the mix, is the fix for my soul, whether it’s weary or joyful.
And Neil Diamond sang:
I got an emptiness deep inside
And I've tried
But it won't let me go
And I'm not a man who likes to swear
But I never cared
For the sound of being alone
I am, I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Swimming and cycling are like noise cancellation headphones that give me clarity of thought. These are times I like being alone.
■ Top races: Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Giro Rosa (women), Tour of Flanders (Belgium), Clasica de San Sebastian (Spain)
■ Stars: Miguel Indurain, Greg LeMond, Eddy Merckx, Marco Pantani, Sean Kelly
Swimming shaped who I am
Yousra Zaki, Assistant Editor - Features
I was four years old when I jumped into an Olympic-sized swimming pool for the first time. I recalled seeing people swim on television, so I imitated their movements and started swimming the front crawl to the other end of the pool.
My swim coach, a very tanned and strict bald man, had told my mother to enrol me into a swim team. After that, I swam five to six times a week as part of a competitive squad until I turned 21.
As someone who hails from the Mediterranean beachside city of Alexandria, swimming is an essential part of growing up Egyptian. Almost every young child is unceremoniously thrown into the shallow end and taught how to swim.
The water-centric upbringing was because of my parents’ love for the ocean. My mother, who always strived for perfectionism, gave us the opportunity to try out every sport available in our city until my brothers and I found our calling in swimming.
The best thing I ever did as a young girl was to spend my free time in the pool. While my friends would go home after school and sit in front of the television, my parents ensured that we were always tired from all of our activities. Good strategy for them because we always went to bed on time.
We spent the weekdays training after school five times a week and weekends were often spent at races. I didn’t have a swimming idol. My goal wasn’t ever to compete in the Olympics, it was to just stay healthy and active. I eventually toned down on swimming because as I got older, the chlorine damaged my hair.
I still swim to this day. I could never forget the techniques I learned when I was younger. My speed may be affected, but I will never forget how many backstrokes I need to turn in time for the flip-turn without hitting my head against the wall.
■ Popular stars: Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, Aleksandr Popov, Johnny Weissmuller, Dawn Fraser
Golfing with dad
I started playing golf as a way of bonding with my dad. I signed up during Ramadan and joined him at the driving range just before sunset at the Arabian Ranches Golf Club. If you think golf is as easy as swinging clubs and hitting the ball, then you have got it all wrong. After a few swings and misses, I paid attention to the grip and my stance.
First thing I learned was how to resist the urge to hold the club like a baseball bat. I learned to grip the club with my left hand, aligned the handle with my palm. Wrap my hand around the club and close it. Once I did that, then learned how to do a correct backswing, I stopped getting frustrated and started hitting the ball.
My motivation soared when my instructor’s tiny tweaks and adjustments made my aim more accurate. I was eventually hitting balls at almost 100 yards and hardly missed the ball. My time at the driving range graduated to Par 3 and I was playing proper rounds of golf with my dad.
I don't have any golf idols, it’s not a sport that fascinated me, it’s just something that I started to really enjoy doing. I loved the fashion related to golf, the caps, the shoes, the clubs and of course, the sense of peace I felt when I would swing and hit and land it 100 yards away.
How golf became my obsession
Mark Rix, Special to Gulf News
The idea that I can play golf until I’m very, very old (God willing) was an attraction for me. I initially hated golf, as my introduction to the sport was through forced labour as a 12-year old caddy for my father, on a usually wet and windy weekend at Morecambe Golf Club in northwest England.
The long lasting business and social relationships I have developed through playing golf are special and on the business front, spending that length of time with a client, or prospective client, generally eclipses the time one would get in a normal office meeting scenario. Add to that the fact that golf forces many players to reveal their inner and often true emotions over the course of a round and this leads to a unique bonding experience for the players.
I loved the perks that golf brought me when I joined the UK Royal Navy at 16. Once the officers discovered I could play, I rarely worked a full week, much to the frustration of my mates. Additionally, a round of golf gets you out in the open air and usually in a beautiful environment for most of the morning or afternoon.
From a technical perspective, I always enjoyed watching Ernie Els and wished I could swing a club like he does. In my opinion, there has never been a more charismatic player than Seve Ballesteros. Compelling viewing every time he teed it up.
I have two stand out moments: Firstly, Following Johnny Miller round the course with my dad in 1981 at Sun City in South Africa. He was the inaugural winner of the Million Dollar Challenge on the Gary Player-designed course. Secondly, playing with Rory Mcllroy in the Jumeirah team at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic Pro-Am in 2012. Rory had just become the world No.1 ranked player. That was a special treat.
■ Top venues: St. Andrews, Scotland; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Prestwich Golf Club, Manchester, UK.
■ Popular stars: Tiger Woods, John Daly, Lee Trevino, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Football and Everton is my life…
Imran Malik, Assistant Editor
I wouldn’t say that I love football. No. That would be putting it far too lightly. I am obsessed by it. Results, fixtures, formations, transfers and tactics consume my thoughts. But why? Well, because it is the greatest sport there is.
Nothing offers as much drama, tension or joy than the beautiful game. It isn’t just great goals that’ll have me off my seat (a long-range strike that smacks the underside of the crossbar and goes into the back of the net is the single most dramatic and beautiful sight you’ll ever see) but a crunching tackle, meandering run, fingertip save, tactical masterstroke by a coach, partisan fans, refereeing decisions, injury time drama… the reasons are endless.
Football gets the adrenaline pumping and you feel the highest level of excitement when your team wins. What about when they lose? Well, when the love of my life, Everton Football Club, has been beaten, I am angry, foul mouthed and full of disgust at the boys in royal blue and white. I take it personally. How could they? Even if we win the next match, I’m still fuming at the loss from the week before. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning.
There was a time in my early twenties when I was fit as a fiddle and had a six-pack that I believed I could have played for them… Or, more realistically, a team in the lower leagues (Everton play in the Premier League — that’s the top level of the English football league system and I wasn’t quite that good). I opted to concentrate on my studies and get a regular job instead of following my real passion.
These days the six-pack has been replaced by a barrel and it’s taken me 20 years to save what most Premier League stars earn in a week. Am I bitter? You bet I am. But, the passion for Everton burns bright, even when they do their best to make me want to ditch them. I’ll never be able to do that — no matter how bad things get.
You can change your cars, your home, even your friends, but you can never change your football team. I’ve been a Blue since 1984 when as a 6-year-old I vaguely remember them on the telly lifting up a trophy. I would mimic my heroes Kevin Sheedy and Barry Horne in the school playground. Pretending to be them always made me play better for some reason. Sheedy had the greatest left foot in the game and would score from outrageous distances with immense power while Horne always wore his heart on his sleeve and fought like a warrior for the team.
There have been too many memorable moments to list here (from getting my very first Everton shirt when I was 11, Everton surviving relegation on the final day of the season to remain in top flight football, winning the FA Cup in 1995, meeting the legendary Dave Hickson) but they pale into insignificance to when I first visited our grand old stadium, Goodison Park.
It is one of the last traditional football stadiums in England and you feel like you’ve been transported to a bygone era when you step inside the characteristic ground with its sea of blue seats, steep imposing stands close to the pitch, and luscious green grass. It will be a sad day when we leave the grand old lady and move to our fancy new home by the docks but it is a move the club has to make in order to keep up with the modern game.
A Manchester City supporter in Glasgow
Matt Smith, Sports Editor
I grew up in Paisley just outside Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1970s/80s and football was the only sport young boys played on any patch of grass or mud, or even in the street outside your house — many a ‘runner’ was done after the smash of broken glass.
My love for football grew from the raw passion in the game, from gut-wrenching tackles to grown men crying, and also the accessibility — 20-a-side on a Friday after school was not uncommon, and my mum (‘Moany Joany’ as we liked to call her) was never tired of shouting at me for mud-stained school trousers with holes in the knees. This was long before the logic of taking a change of a pair of shorts.
My heroes as a kid were Aberdeen and Scotland captain Willie Miller and Dons striker John Hewitt, mainly for the famous night in Gothenburg in 1983 when Aberdeen defeated the mighty Real Madrid to win the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup (I was allowed to stay up late to watch it).
As I got a bit older and English football was shown more often in Scotland, I began to also follow Manchester City. A fan of Aberdeen and then-struggling City in Celtic/Rangers-mad Glasgow was fairly uncommon (well, there was a total of one to my knowledge) but it made for a few interesting and sceptical looks whenever I got asked which team I supported.
I continued to play a lot and won the prominent and coveted accolade of ‘1998-99 University of Stirling Inter-Nations Seven-A-side League top scorer’. You cannot buy class like that ... My creaky 45-year-old legs prevent me playing so much out here in Dubai, but I just pretend it is too hot as an excuse.
The game that stops the world
Omar Shariff, International Editor
Years ago, while randomly surfing through television channels, my eyes caught someone taking a throw-in. The camera had zoomed in on the player, and the name on the jersey was Nazeeh. It was a SAARC tournament match between the Maldives and either India or Bangladesh (I don’t remember). The name sounded familiar, as did the face.
Later that night, it came to me. The player was Mohammed Nazeeh — the same guy who, in the early 1990s in middle school, had been my classmate in Baldwin Boys High School in Bangalore, India. He was boarder, and was bigger than the other boys in class having repeated a year or two. But for the school authorities, all that mattered was he was an excellent centre-forward, a top scorer in the inter-school competition. This also made him the most popular boy in class.
My love for football was born in the school playground. Sports was serious business in our school, and boys were encouraged to take part. We were considered laggards if we were bad in sports, not if we didn't do well academically.
The sports I love are football, cricket and hockey (field hockey: the real one, not the bizarre version played with helmets and gloves on skates). But if were forced to chose one, it would be football.
Why football? For one, it is the simplicity of the sport — there is a round object that needs to be deposited into the opponents’ goal without being touched by hand. Then, there’s the ubiquity and universality. It is literally played in every country. (Fun fact: The United Nations has 193 member states. Fifa has 211.) And it is quick — 90 minutes in most cases. Who has time these days, anyways?
While club football — especially the European variety — has definitely upped the quality of the game worldwide, there is something to be said about the excitement international competitions between nations generate: the Asia Cup, the Euros, the Copa America, and of course the World Cup. There’s something about watching Argentina playing Brazil or Portugal taking on Spain that is missing in an encounter between Liverpool and Manchester United, or Barcelona and Real Madrid.
■ Top venues: Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou (Spain), Wembley (England)
■ Popular stars: Pele, Deigo Maradona, George Best, Zico, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
When cricket bowled me over
Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor
I was barely out of my diapers when India lifted the cricket World Cup in ’83 and my only recollection of that time are snatches of a memory: dad leaping through the air and suddenly twirling me around the room as I giggled with gleeful abandon.
By most standards, this was a great initiation into the world of cricket but it would be years before the love for the game would eventually draw me in. I was in my late teens, a new kid on the block in America and still finding my place in the world, when cricket seemed to find me instead.
It was June 8, 1999, and the World Cup action was going down at the historical Old Trafford in England. Pakistan was chasing down a score of 228 runs to win the match against India, with Mohammad Azharuddin leading the boys in blue with the help of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and Venkatesh Prasad on bowling. Pakistan was a formidable opponent with Wasim Akram spearheading his side with the might of Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
I was in the midst of a marathon study session ahead of my exams, hunched over for what seemed like hours in the dorm, when suddenly the faint sounds of what distinctly sounded like cricket commentary travelled down the hall. Dismissing it at first, curiosity got the better of me when the cheers and cries only got louder. Books forgotten, I followed the sound towards what would soon become one of the most memorable nights of my life.
There were 30 or so students crouched around a little box TV, rooted to their seats in sheer terror as Tendulkar’s wicket fell at 45 runs, caught by Saqlain Mustaq in the first hour of the game. “Don’t panic,” came an unidentifiable voice from the crowd. “We still have Dravid.” A few minutes later, The Wall collapsed facing the might of Akram’s brute force.
As the evening progressed, it was impossible not to get caught up in the frenzy of the match. It was India vs Pakistan, two sworn opponents facing off in the arena, while sparking national pride in many of us hunkered around one television set thousands of miles away from home. That fateful night, bonds were forged, superstition bordered on absurdity and Pakistan choked at 180 all out.
Dancing around the room, giddy with joy once again, the game united strangers that night, while bringing one girl just a little closer to her father and their mutual love for a game. There was no going back now.
How cricket became my religion too
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Did cricket choose me? I often wonder because I fell in love with the game even before I understood it. All I knew was that you had to swing the bat at the ball; I didn’t even know that you bowl without bending the elbow. But I played cricket with my sister with a rubber ball and a bat made from a coconut palm frond.
Years later, I became a club cricketer and turned out for my college. Well, my cricket career stopped there, but my passion didn’t. I kept scrapbooks full of pictures of cricketers and could reel off scores and incidents from memory. I devoured all the cricket books at the British Library in my town. I learned of matches I had not watched. Idolised players I had not seen.
Barry Richards was my favourite. So was Sunil Gavaskar and G.R. Vishwanath. Later Kapil Dev came along to provide my favourite cricket moment: the Prudential World Cup victory in 1983. A milestone in Indian cricket history, it lured a legion of youngsters to the game and helped India become a cricket superpower.
A decade later, I batted on the Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch in Vishwanath’s home town of Bangalore. A heady feeling it was, to play on the turf graced by some of the greats of the game. That was one of the perks of being a journalist.
I no longer play cricket regularly, but I still follow it avidly. The Indian Premier League and India matches are very much on my radar. I may not be able to reel out the scores; I no longer keep scrapbooks, and my cricket gear is tucked away but my passion for cricket hasn’t waned. Not one bit.
■ Top venues: Lord’s (England) Melbourne Cricket Ground (Australia), Eden Gardens (Kolkata, India)
■ Popular stars: Don Bradman, Gary Sobers, Ian Botham, Sunil, Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar
Boxing brings Philippines to a halt
Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor
Officially, the national sport of the Philippines is Arnis. It’s a martial art native to the archipelago. Unofficially, however, the national sport — or pastime — is boxing. It has brought glories and honours to the country, having produced Olympic standouts, professional world champions and some of the greatest fighters.
There's another reason: geography. The Philippines is an archipelago of rather small islands, there aren’t too may open spaces for a proper football pitch. Most basketball courts are actually half-courts. But with a half-court, that’s more than enough to kick off a small-town boxing match. This is how winners are found and groomed. Many Filipinos believe boxing is the type of individual sport where they can have a fighting chance.
I didn’t choose boxing. It chose me. As a kid, I used to join neighbourhood boxing matches. That made me learn boxing is a bloodsport. I’ve been trying to reconcile my pacifism with the thrill of every blow when I watch matches today.
My dad, when he was still alive, followed every Pacquiao fight. And so did my mum. Our household is just a microcosm of the Philippines. The country comes to a standstill — no crime, no traffic, no clashes between the army and armed rebels or secessionists — during such title matches. It’s a rare moment indeed: One can only wish that each day is a boxing match, when the whole country roots for one, and one thing (or person) alone.
I was in awe of Muhammad Ali and how he flew like a butterfly and stung like a bee, “Sugar” Ray Leonard (a mini Muhammad Ali) and Mike Tyson, too. Then among Filipino fighters, there’s Onyok Velazco, Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire. Pacman holds a special place, of course, as he has become world-famous for winning boxing titles in more weight classes than any other boxer in history.
The Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975, and their back-and-forth battle for the ages, is certainly one of the greatest matches in history (a mall was built in Ali's name in Cubao, Manila — Ali Mall — after the world-famous bout).
With Pacman, there are least 25 world-famous fights, of which nearly every round is a thrill any day. The most memorable one for me, would be the 2009 match against Hatton, which showed Pacman’s brilliance and precision. The 2015 Pacquiao-Mayweather fight was a landmark disappointment; it showed how boxing can be won by running away (Pacquiao lost). A rematch would be in order.
■ Top venues: The MGM Grand (Las Vegas), Madison Square Garden (New York), Caesar's Palace (Las Vegas), Araneta Coliseum (Manila), The Boardwalk Hall (Atlantic City).
■ Popular stars: Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Charles Leonard, Roberto Duran, Manny Pacquiao
When basketball was my life
Cesar Valondo, Editorial Assistant
I started playing basketball when I was seven. As I grew up, I fell in love with the game and it became a passion.
As a player, every game and every winning shot stays in your head. However, there is one moment that a player will never forget, and for me, it was when we were playing a championship game as a guest team in another province. We were on the verge of winning when suddenly the fans have their guns out in the open to intimidate us, and they succeeded, we lost the game.
Looking back at my playing days, there are a lot of good memories. I always play to win, never for fun. That mentality instilled fear in my opponents, and earned the respect of my teammates.
For some, basketball may be a hobby, but for me, it’s a way of life. Enjoyment is secondary. It helped me finish my studies, provided additional income, and helped me keep my job in the Philippines as they needed players to represent the company.
Now I am past my prime, so I just play for fun. It reminds me of the good old days.
I looked up to Michael Jordan, his dominance is superb, his numbers are awesome and his overall impact in the game is simply amazing, it gives you goosebumps.
■ Top venues: Madison Square Garden (New York), Staples Centre (Los Angeles), Wells Fargo Centre (Philadelphia), Philippine Arena (Bocaue, Philippines), Araneta Coliseum (Quezon City, Philippines)
■ Popular stars: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird