Friday, August 9, 2013

India’s “Cricket Addiction” and the Neglect of other Sports - Dr. Ishanand Vempeny

India’s “Cricket Addiction” and the Neglect of other Sports

Dr. Ishanand Vempeny

          Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, is an international authority on the economics of sports. In an interview with Ronajoy Sen he said:

“I have no idea why India puts most of its eggs in one basket – cricket! There’s only a nod to soccer and strangely, to field hockey as your country’s national sport. I think for the country as a whole, and particularly for school children growing up, you’d be better off diversifying and having, say, half a dozen popular sports here. India’s seeming addiction to just this one sport is really a bit of a puzzle” (Times of India, Ronajoy Sen, “India’s addiction to just one sport – cricket – is a real puzzle”, May 20, 2013, p.12).

          Mr. Allen Sanderson calls our almost exclusivistic fascination for and intense involvement with Cricket, “addiction”. Addiction is even more enslaving than obsession. For us Indians (especially the middle class and the rich, including the ‘unsporting’ Indians) it is almost impossible to liberate ourselves from the iron grip of this more Colonialistic game than other games like football, basketball, hockey and volleyball. The anti-British film Lagaan became a box-office success chiefly because it was based on the typically British game that is Cricket. Even the Baiters of English and the Promoters of Sanskrit too are enslaved by this addiction. The English themselves are far more fascinated and even obsessed with football and tennis than cricket. It is enough to think of the national enthusiasm for the Wimbledon final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in July 2013 and the unprecedented national celebrations throughout the UK for the victory of Andy Murray.

The Indians Love also the Non-Cricket Sports and Sports-Heroes

          For the award of Bharat Ratna, among the Sports-greats the names of not only Sachin Tendulkar but also the flying Sikh Milkha Singh, the hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, the Payoli Express P. T. Usha and a number of others from different types of sports were given. In fact, the recent film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag on Milkha Singh was a box-office success. To perpetuate the name of Jimmy George, the great Volleyball champion and the Captain of the Victorious Indian Team, there is the Jimmy George Stadium in Trivandrum.

          In the recent London Olympics a few Indian sportspersons received Bronze medals and nobody managed to get the golden variety. Nevertheless, these awardees were acclaimed through the length and breadth of India including the Indian Parliament. In fact, the BBC which was derogatively critical of the poor performance of India in the London Olympics, expressed its amused wonder at the national applause for a few Bronze Medals. The BBC was wondering why India with its more than a thousand and two hundred millions of people, could not get a single gold medal in the recent Olympics while much smaller and poorer African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia could enrich themselves with a lot of gold. The Indian Bronze medalists were awarded with many millions of rupees by the government and by the private agencies. Is it not a myth that we Indians like only Cricket? These facts show that we Indians are fascinated also with sports other than cricket and the sports heroes are not only the cricket greats.

A Hurried Query into the Reasons for India’s Cricket Addiction

          After the sports fixing scam and the goofing up by BCCI, one might expect that Cricket would not take the central space of newspapers, news-channels and sports magazines. But the truth is that in spite of the French Open, Wimbledon and the European Football Championships involving such great teams as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and the like, the Indian media was almost ignoring these great sports events and was chiefly busy with the news of cricket matches (often of minnows) and of sports fixing scams along with the intransigence of the BCCI.

          We say Cricket is ‘Religion’ in India. Now mark the difference. Football is ‘Religion’ in Brazil, even with many more reasons. They have won the World Cup (Five times) more often than any of the European, African and the Asian Nations. In the villages, slums and the cities of Brazil, little children, both the rich and the poor, start kicking around cheap balls with no football grounds round about. But when it came to the question of organizing World Cup spending a few billions of dollars, there were nationwide uproar and protests against holding these international sports extravaganza spending such exorbitant some of money. The protesters were shouting for more primary schools, more health centres and more and better food for the starving millions especially of the slums. This shows that Brazilians put us to shame in their social consciousness and their awareness of the grades or degrees of priorities. But the truth of the matter is that in India Cricket is growing more as multi-billion commercial empire of the rich and the elite than as a sports concern for all and sundry.

          In India the Cricket ‘greats’ get more money than many of the football and basketball greats in the West. Indeed, when the Indian football team or hockey team come home with medals the money given to a single cricket player surpasses that of the money awarded to the whole team. Gold medalists like Abhinav Bindra (Olympic), Anju Bobby George (World Championship), P. T. Usha (Asian Games and CWG) and Deepika Kumari (Archery Wizard) are not given such economic benefits though they became champions more at the expense of their families rather than that of the government. There is no serious protest against this step-motherly treatment of sports persons other than cricketers. The BCCI led by Mr. Srinivasan does not bother about such discrimination against other sports and before its tyrannical behavior even the government and the courts seem to be helpless.

Some unsporting Reasons?

a)    Economic Reasons

          In the Frontline there are number of articles which show how this game is losing its character not only as a gentleman’s game but even as a game itself. It has become more corrupt than other commercial ventures in India. In his interview with Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprasthasta, Mr. Ashis Nandy says:

“Money in a poor country is always important. But the corruption in the game has more to do with the corporatizations of the game. The moment cricket became a professional industry such incidents were bound to happens. Now it has become a real business… Profit has become so important. If you are linked with bookies, and you a good player, you won’t be thrown out of the system. (Mohammad) Azharuddin became an MP. The moral universe of players now and before is different. The clout of bureaucrats and businessmen in cricket administration has increased. But that clout does not want to improve the game, but energies are channeled only towards making the game more and more profitable.” (Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, Frontline, Cover-story “It has become a real business”, June 28, 2013, p.18)

b)    The Glamour attached to Cricket
          It is well known that with the British Officers in leisure, Rajas and Maharajas joined in this game. Besides, as Mr. Siriyavan points out, after the Royals and celebrities the high-caste people especially the Brahmins dominated the game. According to this author the high-caste Hindus who have a tradition of not soiling or dirtying their clothes through agricultural or factory work, spontaneously fell for cricket which is supposed to be played wearing white pants, shirts and hats. To this was added the association of film-stars, seminude, cheering girls, to enhance the glamour. 

c)    The Disproportionate Coverage by the Media

          For the newspapers in the vernaculars, sports reporting could mean mostly reporting about cricket games even by second rate teams and minnows. During the last National Games in Ranchi (2008) the newspapers and the TV channels except the DD channel almost ignored it. It mattered so little to the private media that more than 30 thousands sports persons from all over India taking part in sports. National games by its very nature contribute a lot for national integration apart from building up the infrastructure for sports. 

d)    The Domination of ‘Jugaad’ (karma-prarabdha) Mentality

          According to Ashis Nandy, for us Indians cricket depends more on luck and destiny. In the Indic Religions there is a tendency to depend more on prarabdha (karma of previous birth) rather than on purusartha (human effort). This seems to explain partly the Jugaad attitude of the cricketers. The Jugaad attitude with which we Indians approach cricket is partly responsible for this addiction. This addiction leads to all sorts of betting and gambling in cricket. Mr. Ashis Nandy writes:

“The uniqueness of cricket is that it is one game which depends very much on luck and how you handle luck or probability. It is a game of ambiguities. Cricket can never be predicted, can never be a clear-cut game, and however well you practice or train your team, a very important part of the game will always remain with your luck. You see, a batsman can get two chances but a fielder cannot. If you drop a catch, you just drop it. A bowler can go on toiling and experimenting with balls. A batsman cannot do that. Also, two teams are never fully on the ground at the same time unlike football or hockey or basketball. The two teams are not playing under the same conditions. Weather conditions matter. You can swing the ball only in a particular weather, putting one team at an advantage or a disadvantage. In cricket, as compared with other games, the role of probability is enormous. You fight not only your opponents but also against your own destiny.” (Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, Frontline, Cover-story “It has become a real business”, June 28, 2013, p.16)

India’s need for the Growth also of Non-Cricket Sports

          According to the international authority on sports economics, Mr. Allen Sanderson, quoting whom we began this article, it is not wise for India to put “most of its eggs in one basket – cricket!” First of all, cricket is mostly confined to ten or a few more British colonies whereas there is hardly a country in the world (more than two hundred nations are members of the UNO) where football, volleyball, basketball and hockey are not played. Besides, these games give more physical exercises than cricket.      It is said that in the European Football Tournaments every player except the Goalkeeper runs from 10 to 15 kilometers during the 90 minutes of the game. Something similar happens in hockey, rugby and basketball.

          Another drawback of cricket is its failure to inculcate team spirit. For instance, in cricket never all the 22 players are in the court or in the pitch at the same time. In cricket, we often hear of one or other or even several stars breaking the records in runs, in bowling, catch etc., while the team loses. But in a soccer team, when a Rooney, a Ronaldo or a Baichung Butia makes a hatrick it is quite unlikely that such a team gets defeated. In March 2012 in the Asia Cup competition in Bangladesh, India lost but Sachin Tendulkar was working for his highest achievement, namely a Century of Centuries in Cricket. Mr. Siriyavan Anand points out with facts and figures how cricket is more an individualistic rather than a team game. (Eating with Our Fingers, Watching Hindi Cinema and Consuming Cricket in, Dalit E-Forum published on March 4, 2002).

          The government and the persons in charge of sports in India seem to be ignorant of the potential of sports for nation-building in general and of personality building in particular. This ignorance is partly responsible for the step-motherly treatment of sports in India. Perhaps no country in the world allocates so little capital for sports, in proportion to the gross national income, as India does. Even the so-called under developed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in proportion to their national income, spend more money for sports activities than India. On the other hand nowhere in the world except in the Indian culture, creation of the world is described as the result of ‘play’ (lila or krida) of the Absolute Reality as depicted through the images of Nataraja (The King of Dance – The Dancing Shiva) and the Murlidhar (The Flute Playing Krishna). From the philosophical and religious points of view this concept of the Ultimate Reality is very profound and enriching.

Some Indian leaders consider sports as “children’s play” (khel-kud). But let us remember some facts. England’s victory in Football World Cup in 1966 caused an economic boom and emigration from England went down drastically. After this victory somebody asked an Englishman: “Why did you change your plan of migrating to New Zealand?”  He replied: “We damn Englishmen can still do something.” In other words victory in the world cup was a great moral boost and a boost for the English self-image. The same thing happened following the London Olympics in which the UK got a big number of medals. The French victory in Football World Cup in 1998 had a similar effect in France. One of the motivating forces for the development of a nation is its continuously improving self-image. This is one of the reasons why China spent billions of dollars for organizing the 2008 Olympics and preparing their sports persons as world-beaters.

          From the points of view of many other leaders including great sports persons, investment in sports is the vitally necessary for the youth of a nation. Indeed it is the guaranteed investment for the future prosperity of a nation. According to an old saying, mens sana in corpore sano (=‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’) if one’s body is healthy his mind also will be healthy. Though sports primarily aim at a healthy body it equally will take care of a disciplined and focused mind and a steely, do or die attitude.

To Conclude

          The metaphor of a banyan tree can partly explain the Indian situation of cricket vis-à-vis other sports. Who does not like to have a banyan tree near his house with its cooling shadows and its numerous branches spreading far and wide? But no trees and most herbs will not be allowed to grow under the banyan tree because of the cooling albeit murderous embrace of this tree. This is precisely what cricket does to Indian sports. True, cricket gives a lot of money and a lot of entertainment but it does not allow other sports, vitally necessary for the Indian youth, to grow and develop.

          Who will not sympathize with Milkha Singh who lamented saying: “Cricket has driven down the standard of every other sport. And I blame the media as well. I want to be frank with you. The media hardly gives coverage to athletics or hockey or volleyball or any game apart from cricket” (Indian Express interview by Shekhar Gupta, the Editor-in-Chief with Shri Milkha Singh the Flying Sikh, March 28, 2010, p.14).

          Representing the Indian delegation to present the Indian point of view to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at its headquarters in Lausanne, Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian Olympic gold medalist, (for an individual sports) expressed his apprehensions about sports in India saying: “We need sports administrators with a passion for developing sports. It will be great if sportspersons take up positions in administration. But no matter who you are, if your goal is to take sports forward, you are welcome… There is a lot of talent in the country that lacks direction. We need to give them a definite path towards progress” (Quoted by Kamesh Srinivasan, “Good Governance is the need of the hour”, Sportsstar, June 29, 2013, p.43).

          Who will listen to the heartrending expressions of these two sports heroes of India? Will the heads of the Sports Associations of India pay heed to these heartfelt and wise requests? Can the government shake up the goalless and lethargic sports administrators of India?  

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