We shouldn't just talk up the value of sport
Qatar fans look on in disbelief as Ecuador celebrate their opening goal, a penalty scored by Enner Valencia, during their Fifa World Cup opener at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, yesterday. (Photo: AP)

From the evidence provided on our television sets, the passionate band of Ecuadoran football supporters inside Al Bayt Stadium jumped for close to 90 minutes as their team dominated hosts Qatar in the Fifa World Cup opener on Sunday.

We need no one to tell us that, in Ecuador's capital Quito, and throughout that mountainous, football-loving South American country, people celebrated their 2-0 victory late into Sunday night.

We are prepared to bet that crime dipped as well.

In that regard, Sunday's lead story outlining evidence of significant dips in crime here during previous Fifa football World Cups comes as no surprise to us.

Indeed, many Jamaicans readily recall the immediate aftermath of Jamaica's qualification for the 1998 men's football World Cup in France when police blotters showed an extraordinary fall-off in criminal activity.

Back then, such was the feel-good factor that people took to the streets beating pot covers and pans, honking car horns, flashing headlights, and then Prime Minister Mr P J Patterson famously announced November 17, 1997 as a public holiday.

Just as an aside, we are left to wonder whether the negative vibe from sporting disappointment has a reverse effect with the evil ones among us lashing out.

Away from such gloom, we all know that 'feel good' in sport has an uplifting effect on self-esteem, even for those of us who are mere spectators and supporters. Jamaicans have experienced it time and again — not least in athletics where our sprinters are routinely among the world's best.

Even in cricket, where the travails of the West Indies team have led to depression too often for comfort, there have been uplifting moments, such as earlier this year when the regional team defeated touring England in Test cricket. And we dare not forget Saturday night when the Jamaica Scorpions, led by the outstanding Mr Rovman Powell, won the regional Super50 Cup — the first silverware for Jamaica men's cricket in the 50-over version in 10 years — leaving supporters with that warm, glowing feeling.

And if the effect of success in sport is so grand for those who only watch, consider the impact on those who actually compete.

Educators readily testify to the positive vibes from sport for many students who struggle in the classroom. It helps that increasingly in today's world, success on the field of play at school can lead to a highly lucrative professional career.

Contextualising the feel good factor of sport in historical terms, consultant psychologist Dr Aggrey Irons reminds us that even combat sport was used by ancient cultures as a deterrent to violent crime.

"It was a way of distracting the population, particularly the male population, from their inherent fighting attitudes… Man, by very nature, is a physical being and you dissipate that energy," said Dr Irons.

It's not as if our leaders do not recognise the value of organised sport and recreation in encouraging rational, peaceful, human relationships. The problem is actual implementation.

Sunday's article reminds us that in 2018 National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang spoke of a planned programme beginning with 20 "most vulnerable communities" to expose at-risk youth to music, sports, and technology.

It's full time to put such projects on the front burner and actually execute.

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