By Ayaz Menon
Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
All kinds of things are said between cricketers on the field of play, but `selling’ heaven or hell to a rival seems like a first…”
The Ahmed Shehzad incident, like many in the recent past have highlighted, for a fact that the sportsman spirit that permeated every game is now practically dead. Teams are competitive. Sport is about making good money. And losing isn’t an option. So what was once regarded as a gentleman’s game has now been turned into a battlefield where even religion isn’t sacrosanct.
No competitive sport has ever been without its fair share of ugliness, be it early football World Cups or the Olympics. However, the alarming tendency with which incidents that involve race, caste, creed as well as gender is something to take note of as it effects the very fabric of sports and keeps it under dire straits.
While sports by nature is competitive, it is also by nature a binding factor for many individuals and countries. Nelson Mandela managed to unite an entire nation with his rugby team, cricket is often regarded as a binding factor between India and Pakistan too. Having said that, the recent spate of issues, be it the Shehzad incident, Ian Botham’s comments about the IPL, the Anderson-Jadeja spat and many other such cases which have been brought to light, the dirt and filth that has permeated modern day cricket. And this isn’t the only sport affected. In football too racial slurs and abuses have become a commonplace issue and respect for an opponent is a thing of the past. Olympic sports too for a long time have seen the growth of issues like doping and Lance Armstrong, one of the legends of cycling too has admitted to breaking any sort of code of conduct that existed in his sport.
The problem that sportsmen and athletes are facing today is that they are shown a culture where winning is everything. Gone are the days of “gentlemen champions of timeless steel and dignity” and of people who first respected the sport and above all their colleagues on the playing field. Nowadays the passion has been replaced by aggression and most of it largely ill founded. While it would be wrong to say that the sportsman spirit was always upheld (Bodyline for instance), it would also be unfair to say that it was always this bad. One would think that events such as the IPL, sporting leagues where players from all nationalities play as a team as well as the strict code of conduct that modern sportsperson’s follow would have gone a long way in ensuring bonhomie on the playing field; far from it in fact.
Overall, the fact that sports has turned into a battleground lost in a maze of slurs, abuses and sledges is unfortunate not only for those who play the game but for those who watch it as well. As sublime as it is watching the most promising Indian batsman score a century, it is equally jarring to see him hurl the choicest words as he reaches the milestone. Maybe one day we will rediscover gentlemen in sport but until then we have to bear with that which passes for conduct today.