There’s more to winning than coming first, as John Denne reminds us.
In the final minute of Brazil’s 2002 Soccer World Cup opening match against Turkey, Turkey’s Hakan Unsal kicked the ball at the Brazilian, Rivaldo. Although the ball hit his knee, Rivaldo went down clutching his face, grimacing as if in agony. His simulation led to the dismissal of Unsal. Brazil went on to win an unprecedented fifth World Cup, but Rivaldo’s infamous act caused him to be branded a cheat by many of his own countrymen, and others.
Somehow, in our hearts we know that there is something far more important than winning a game at all costs. And that something is winning at life. Beyond the glamour and glory of winning a race, is the importance of having the sort of character and values that cause us to win the race—the race of life.
The enduring nature of values having precedence above records is reinforced by the photo that has been judged as the best Australian sporting photo of the 20th century. It’s a photo of the world junior champion miler, Ron Clarke, on the ground, in 1956, in Melbourne.
Having accidentally injured Clarke when he fell, Landy stopped and came back to see if he was all right. It was the instinctive action for a mate in trouble. Landy’s caring act is no doubt of greater moment in history than his success at breasting the tape first that day.
And we win by such character and values in life as well. The race has greater significance than a race. Sports personalities who take bribes from bookmakers, sledge their opponents, smash hotel rooms, demean women, or take performance- or appearance-enhancing drugs aren’t real winners, no matter how many wickets they may take, how many goals they kick, how fast they run or how much weight they lift. The impressiveness of scoring will never counter a reputation for greed, bad temper or dishonesty and the public lack of respect that ensues. In fact, honesty is the characteristic most admired in leaders and role models by Australians and New Zealanders.1
That’s why Grant Hackett is regarded as being both the favourite Australian sportsperson currently competing and one of the best models for young Australians today. Marathon star Robert de Castella says that people see Hackett as “someone who has stuck it out through the tough times”; America’s Cup yachting hero John Bertrand speaks of his “strong leadership qualities.”2 Such comments focus the respect we have for integrity. It’s integrity that makes a real “winner.”
Being a real winner is about character, not about being the fastest, the smartest or the strongest. And that means that in life, if not sport, we all can be winners—respected and admired.
Peter Watt, a long-time friend of mine, spent years in a wheelchair after being paralysed by polio. He is someone I admire as a winner. While he’s not been winning footraces, he has won in life’s race, at least in my estimation and others who know him. His cheerfulness in the face of adversity shows me the winning way.
Jesus also won in the face of adversity. Further He gave us values and wisdom to live by that can help us to run life’s race with integrity. However, we need more than good models and good advice to have a deep-down awareness that we ourselves are winners. So often we can feel that we fail, whether we attempt a lot or a little. Many of us aren’t positive about winning life’s race because of mistakes in the past, guilt in the present, and the thought of no hope in the future. In these things, Jesus has provided for us all to be “winners.”
The paramount truth of the Bible is that God loves us and wants us all to win the race and seize the prize. That’s why Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”3
That’s why the apostle Paul, as a believer, could say with the conviction of a successful athlete, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”4
So be a winner today. Believe!