If my competitor is far superior, should I show up?

Your football team loses by double digits. You get lapped at a swim meet. The referee stops your boxing match in the first round (for your sake). The other competitors are already in the shower as you cross the line. Was it worth showing up?

Athletes who have been at the wrong end of a lopsided result may ask themselves whether their effort did anyone any good at all. But is it right to label what might seem like an embarrassing performance as such? What should you consider when taking on the overwhelming favourite, if you feel that you are playing in an entirely different (and inferior) league?

Know your contest, and yourself

Once again we can consult the postulates to help us find our way. Postulate 1 states that all are invited to the contest – an invitation that is permanently renewable. This can be logistically challenging. Many sports therefore have divisions or leagues that require qualification to step onto the field of play, to help make contests more even. Athletes who have proven a certain level of proficiency in their sport, through qualification or otherwise, should thus know what level they should be signing up for (nosce te ipsum!) – even if that level is dominated by certain athletes.

Putting an amateur intramural team on the field or a beginner boxer in the ring against a professional-level opponent brings risks, after all. The professional team might not feel that they can give their best effort (Postulate 6), lest they diminish their challenger to the point of injury (Postulate 7). There are, however, contests where broad participation is allowed, and even encouraged. Cup competitions where all leagues are invited are an example of this, as are mass participation events where elite and beginners alike must finish the same course as fast as possible. In these cases, the “spread” of the results can be unusually wide, but perhaps expected as well.

What is most important to consider is whether it is the participants of the contests that have determined, and agreed to, such practices. This is one focus of Postulate 9, which argues that the athletes participating must be entitled in some way to determine the format under which they compete. If there is some “higher power” excluding competitors from participation without the support of those athletes, then the ninth postulate argues that the contest should be forfeit.

Participation creates champions

Assuming that the format is accepted, the athletes must then assess two other conditions: Firstly, is it an even playing field (Postulate 3)? And secondly, have those advantages that the overwhelming favourite presumably posesses been gained fairly (as Postulate 4 states)? If the cards are somehow stacked in favour of the other competitor, then that would be a valid reason for an athlete not to show up.

But if all seems fair and agreeable with the contest, then showing up is what an athlete does. We honor our competitors by toeing the line with them. Should we lose – even by a large margin – there is honor in that. Champions are borne on their shoulders of their competitors, whose persistence, dedication, and participation are their fundaments. You might get your ass handed to you occasionally, but you are creating the champions in our Society. Without you, they are less worthy. You’ll learn what needs to be done to better challenge your competitor next time, and then, perhaps, your sisters and brothers will be holding you highest aloft.