The English are noted for their love of games and sports. They are bred up to it from boyhood. Games, such as football, hockey, and the national game of cricket, are made much of in all public schools; and the boys play them with zest.
The love and playing of such manly games have created in them what is called the sporting spirit, or sportsmanship; that is, the right spirit in which a man should take part in sport, or play any game. This spirit is well expressed in Henry Newbolt’s line about the cricketer:-
“And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote-
‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’ ” .
Of what elements is this sporting spirit made up? First, fair play. A real sportsman will never dream of cheating in a game, or of taking an unfair advantage of an opponent. He will always “play fair”, and honourably keep the rules of the game. This is so well understood and practised that the phrase, “Play the game!” has come to mean the same as “play fair”. And when in any sphere of life something shady or dishonest is suggested, a sportsman will say, “No; that isn’t cricket.”
Next, enthusiasm for the game, and a keen desire to win. This is expressed by, “Play up! Play up!” A keen sportsman takes the game seriously. He has no patience with the man who plays at playing, and who does not care whether he wins or loses. He is in earnest in his play, and he expects his opponents to be as earnest as himself.
Thirdly, generosity to opponents. A good sportsman would rather give away a point than claim an advantage. He will give in to an opponent’s claim rather than wrangle over a disputed point.
Fourthly, a real sportsman will play a losing game with pluck and patience. An unsportsmanlike player will often lose his temper when he is getting defeated, and throw away the game, like a spoilt child- But the true sportsman keeps in a good humour even when he is losing, and shows the greater pluck the more the odds are against him.
Lastly, the final test is whether a player can take defeat well. If, when beaten, he can sincerely congratulate his triumphant opponent, and show no signs of humiliation or vexation, then he has indeed the true sporting spirit.
So, in all walks of life, “Play up! Play up! And play the game!”