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3:33 Sports Short #43 // Playing the Sports Fan by Claire Polders

I know people who believe that painting their faces orange will influence the outcome of a match. Most of them have college degrees.

I also know people who believe that swallowing a wafer on Sunday will improve their lifestyles once they are dead. Some of them teach physics at schools.

Are their beliefs comparable?

A religious person might reply that sacred traditions are fundamentally different from superstitions. But tell that to Maradona, fretting his rosary beads at the sidelines.

Although I never cared much for sports, fans have always fascinated me. Their lucky underwear. Their gibberish slogans. Why do people who seem reasonable in day-to-day life champion magic when it comes to winning games?

*

Years ago, I was invited to a Parisian cinema to watch the quarterfinals of the World Cup (soccer) on a giant screen. Allez, les Bleus! I chanted along with everybody else. How they loved me: a Dutch girl with her winsome accent rooting for the French. And they won. Days later, I was summoned to attend the semi-finals. Please, you are our mascot. 

Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I returned to the cinema and played along, stepping into their world of make believe. I was given a paper flag and allowed them to draw the tricolor on my arm. I cheered even louder this time and let myself be carried away by a sense of shared humanity. There was something seductive about the illusion that what we said and did held special powers.

About half way through the match, it dawned on me that this illusion wasn’t only seductive, but also necessary: believing that our presence mattered was the only way for us to participate. It was a game we played almost independently of the match, a game that tied us to what was happening on the screen. Without our illusion, we would be merely spectators and succumb to boredom (as had happened to me in the past). Right there and then, however, in the cinema, we suspended reality and joined the game.

*

Do Dutch soccer fans believe in their orange faces as much as Catholics believe in their Eucharist?

Well, let’s say: when we enter a playground or sanctuary, we want to be transported to another world where logic is irrelevant. A world that liberates us from reality. Playing the Sports Fan during the World Cup, I wasn’t bound to what was true. As long as I played, I was free.


Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels. Her short prose in English has recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, Tin House Online, Folio, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Word Riot, and elsewhere. Her first novel in English is on the way. Find her at @clairepolders or http://www.clairepolders.com.

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