Cricket. ~We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality~

At the very onset let me confess I’m a cricket illiterate person and despite being surrounded by family who during the Season cannot be ‘disturbed’ come Hell or High water, well almost… have rarely been a part of the entire exciting, nail biting, sometimes very frustrating carnival.

But it must be said for a country with limited entertainment that doesn’t inculcate sport in its lifestyle it’s wonderful how people turn to cricket almost vicariously. Besides enjoying the game, it fulfils a need, a bond that binds us from North to South, East to West, into a Nation, an idea of which I easily and happily take ownership of.

To those who repeatedly say that cricket and politics should be kept far away from each other, either don’t understand sport or are ignorant of the fact, that politics has always been a part of it.

In Ahmedabad of the late 70s a Pakistani win meant crackers in the Walled City, skirmishes and, or riots. During the same years, English football fans returning home to UK via Hovercraft or train would dredge up every World War 2 taunt (yes, WW2 !!) for the French and mock them for their then cowardice.

In the late 80’s, in Düsseldorf, a caring Station Master ushered my husband and myself into his office in case the German football fans mistook us for Turks, who had dealt them that evening, a decisive defeat. Safe inside, we could hear them shout, bully and rough up Turks or those, who looked like them, on the platform, with terrible racism and violence, till armed police came to the rescue.

Right from the Roman arenas when Gladiators went out to fight the lions, condemned prisoners, Christians, or each other to entertain a baying audience sport was all about politics & money.

These men were celebrated for their martial ethics and their value as entertainers was commemorated in souvenirs throughout the Roman world.

Private citizens owned Gladiators under Imperial permission who they trained and then leased out. Games in small town communities, advertising and personal generosity was funded by these citizens. The larger and most lavish games were paid for by the Emperor himself.

The trade in Gladiators was empire wide and subjected to official supervision.

Rome’s military success produced a supply of soldiers who were redistributed or sold in the open market to Gladiator trainers and owners.

It was about strength, politics of the owners at the time, marketability and money. Think: Russel Crowe in Gladiator.

Not much has changed since then.

In 1932 the Nazis used the Olympics as an opportunity to promote their government’s ideals of racial supremacy and anti semitism.

German Jewish athletes were barred from participating and other countries also sidelined them in order not to offend the Nazi regime.

Right from 1952 to its final appearance in 1988 the Soviet Union was a dominating force in the international sporting world. Its success is attributed to the State’s total control on it.

John N Washbur in “Sport as a Soviet Tool” writes how Soviet athletes and sportsmen were punished by the State for not having the will to win, even in the then irrelevant sport of chess.

Can anyone think of the Munich Olympics without remembering the massacre of Israeli athletes by the Palestinians who chose an international sporting event to make a political point?

In 1970, the ICC voted to suspend South Africa from International Cricket indefinitely because of its government policy of Apartheid, an overtly racist policy which led them to play only against white nations – England, Australia, New Zealand and field only white players.

It brought up an influx of future stars as Tony Greig, Alan Lamb and Robin Smith to England and Kepler Wessels to Australia.

South Africa was reinstated in 1991 after the deconstruction of Apartheid and the team played its first sanctioned match since 1970 against India in Kolkata on 10 November 1991.

In 1976 East Germany’s doping scandal involving women swimmers brought out in the open how Communist countries used sport at the cost of humans to prove a political point of superiority.

In 1984 Russia boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in a tit for tat of US’s boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow four years earlier.

In 2017 The Guardian wrote –

~Want to understand politics in the last 25 years? Look at football~

~As politics was reformulated into a brand – Clinton’s Third Way and Tony Blair’s – New Democracy. New Labour, top flight European football clubs which were already run by like companies, found they had evolved into something resembling multinational conglomerates.

Football rather the football ‘experience’ became a commodity that was sold globally at unprecedented scale.

To make football uniformly ‘consumable’ to people across continents the sport had to be sanitised & the stadium neutral, protected from external elements such as the anxiety of race and colonialism that crops up when Algeria plays France or when Brazil plays Portugal. ~

~Celtics waved Palestinian flags in a match against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva and questions came up if fans from distant Africa & Asia could ever relate to or belong to a European Club.

As identity of Club and fan is deeply rooted in place, history and culture~

These contradictions have brought up anger, violence and football is associated, like it or not, with a particular class and its politics of angst against the ruling segment who watched and played a leisurely game on Country Club greens while ruling the Empire ruthlessly.

Therefore, let’s put this bullshit aside about not bringing politics into cricket and call it for what it actually is.

First about history – Perceived and real slights on the field. Perceived and real enmity beyond the field. And then, about money. Money all around.

Come on, even an after-dinner game of Pictionary and Taboo with friends is enough to bring very polite, respectable people to teeth-gnashing anger exposing the dynamics of various relationships – between spouses, siblings, friends, neighbours …

So, when a match takes place, it is no surprise that our history, our culture and our identity are all there, present on that field. Yess! It’s about Mauka! Mauka! but bolstered with the National Anthem, chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram, no less, to swell our chest with unfathomable pride.

For as long as human beings are touched by emotions, by life and by death they will find it a challenge to compartmentalise competitive sport from politics. Hence, it never ceases to surprise when the usual vocal votaries push for cricket with Pakistan. Surely, its not an overly simplistic view of international affairs, our past, or a lack of understanding the psyche of their own country that has till recently, suffered a thousand cuts….?

As Ayn Rand put it so well ~Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong~