June 16, 2006

Role of Tradition.

While watching some of the world cup matches, particularly of Brazil, a question stuck me: why is Brazil so consistently good over a long period of time? More generally, why are some countries better than the rest in different sports? (Of course, this question can be asked of any field, but here I confine myself to sports.)

This question is surprisingly potent. Why is Australia dominating cricket world for the last 20 years and why did it not do so well for some years prior to that? Similarly how did West Indies rule cricket world for two decades and then dissipate? How can Pakistanis keep producing fast bowlers, while Indians struggle? Then again, why is India is so good in producing quality spinners? Why are Russians so good at chess and East Europeans in gymnastics? Kenyans in marathon? East Asian countries in Badminton? And so on.

I admit that in all these cases there are crucial exceptions. However, in spite of their significance, the validity of my question remains. Another thing I must clarify is that each of these cases has specific explanations and there needs to be thorough research in order to understand them. I do not mean to belittle the deep sociological meaning of these phenomena.

What I am interested in is a common feature of these disparate phenomena. Notice that in every single case I mentioned above the dominance is maintained for a considerable period of time. When I think about it, the only answer I can come up with is the important role of tradition, by which I mean a wide array of cultural aspects present in a society.

I firmly believe that the potential to achieve excellence in a field is distributed randomly. It is certainly not distributed nicely along geographic lines. But I used the word potential. So when they are born, an Indian is as likely to have the potential to become a great soccer player as a Brazilian. The differentiation begins from the moment they are born. The atmosphere in which they are groomed plays a major role in how they turn out. And that atmosphere is determined by what drives the passions of that society, what defines their thinking. In a word, tradition. And yes, a major catalyst in establishing a tradition is how your country is doing at that point of time. If it's doing well, then the tradition is strengthened.

But how are these traditions created, and equally importantly, how are they broken. Well, there are all sorts of different reasons for it, and they need to be studied and understood in each case. What I wanted to emphasize here is only the importance of tradition in sustaining the success of a country in a sport.

On a lighter note, here is a satirical look at which political arrangements tend to produce successful world cup teams. It ends like this:
There's one iron law that overrides all the others. The political reality most likely to produce a Jules Rimet trophy at any given moment in history: whatever form of government has taken up residence in Brasilia that week.


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