Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

My Beloved Underdog: Reflecting on Win-Lose in Sports

A Week of Firsts

This week has been full of many firsts in my life.

Here are some of them:

  • My first tuk tuk ride
  • My first time in a country where I don’t speak the language
  • My first time in a country where I don’t recognize the alphabet
  • My first time as an international student in a developing country

This list leads me to reflect on the first time that I had observed ideas of peace and conflict in my life. The Quakers were the first community where I first observed peace building in Ohio. Founded in the 1600s in colonial Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, do not use formal scripture and believe in the simplicity of daily life. Quakers gather in a “meeting” and address each member of the group as “friends.”

This community of friends was the first time that I observed how everyone was important to the group, and had a right to speak their own opinion equally. In this group, I observed no particular hierarchy. This leads me to think about a Quaker story that I once heard.

There are two Quaker soccer teams. Based on the principle of win-win, if one team scores a goal, the other team is granted a matching goal. This story made me chuckle because I remember asking: “then what is the point of the competition if no one gets to win?” The reason I bring this up now is because it is the first time I am really looking closely at the peace building process. Growing up in the Midwest and as an American football fan, I grew to love the ideal of competitiveness. I felt like this ideal pushed me constantly to improve my “game” so to speak. Clearly this worldview is counter to a world where we are striving to build sustainable peace. Now, I realize that peace is not about competition. It is about creating a space where everyone wins.

The question then that comes to mind is: Should conflict be prevented in the first place?

One theory states that the aim is not to avoid conflict, but to avert violent conflict. Broadly, conflict in any form leads to a lose-lose for all parties. Yet, my inherent American competitive nature promotes that there is dignity in failure and that there is much to gain from understanding loss. We are taught that we must learn from our defeats. So, today, as I reflect on my own cultural biases while in a multicultural and socio economically diverse group, I think about the language of sports: bases loaded, strike out, sudden death, shot clock, final four, come from behind, chop block, penalty kick and so on. The violence in this language is obvious, and the outcome of these conflicts is predictable: one side will win and one side will lose. I will cheer for the “underdog” and hope the “favorite” loses.

I will end this reflection with a confession: I am a competitive, outspoken advocate for the “underdog” who strives to win. I understand the value of loss and enjoy the tense, conflict ridden American football season. In fact, I love it. Does this mean then that I have to say goodbye to my beloved underdog?

Maria P. Tuttle – USA

Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 21



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