Gambhir Gaffe: Is sporting spirit a history now?

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Srinagar: “Sports should never be mixed with politics,” author George Orwell once wrote in his iconic The Sporting Spirit. He wrote the piece at the end of the England visit by the Russian football team Dynamo that saw them play four matches against the English sides, most of them turning ugly with players coming to exchanging blows. Rather than improving the Anglo-Soviet relations, it had a negative effect prompting Orwell to call for sports to not be considered as a matter of national pride, but to be treated just as it is.

Orwell’s assertion is in no way found to be followed by sporting nations in the contemporary times. Sports have become more of an indicator of the state of political relations between nations. No sooner there is diplomatic tiff between the nations, sports exchanges are the first casualty.

In conflict ridden places, sports is used as a tool to score political points, sell as an indicator of peace and what not.

Sub-continent is a prototype of how sports exchanges are dependent on political atmosphere between the countries, with neighbours India and Pakistan its protagonists.

A political imbroglio between the two arch-rivals brings sports encounters to standstill. Cricket- popular and most followed sport in both the countries- gets stalled no sooner there is a tension between the neighbours. Post 2007, there has been no bilateral series between India and Pakistan and the latter’s cricketers are barred from participating in the cash rich Indian premier league.

For any government to score brownie points, cricket encounters are stopped to please the masses. For years, it has been limited to politicians and respective governments to take a decision on sports exchanges in the days of heightened tension between India and Pakistan.

While the governments continue to use sports as manifestation of relationship with Pakistan and vice-versa, there is a dangerous trend that has set in with cricketers not shying away from expressing their views on anything and everything: howsoever flawed it may be. Most of it is selective outrage lacking context and historical facts. More than anything else it seems players are happy playing to the gallery.

The recent episode that stunned all the sane voices across the divide was Indian opener Gautam Gambhir’s recent assertion that 100 ‘jihadis’ (read Kashmiris) should be killed for every slap on army jawan. The left hander’s tweet came in response to a video in which a protester was hitting a CRPF jawan soon after end of bye-elections in a Budgam village.

Indian media didn’t waste a second in projecting the government forces as victims without mentioning the killing of eight Kashmiris on the same day.

Gambhir and his former Indian teammate Virendar Sehwag joined the chorus showing their anger over the incident. Gambhir, not behooving to a cricketer of his class, came up with the words that called for a massacre of Kashmiris.

“For every slap on my army’s Jawan lay down at least a 100 jihadi lives. Whoever wants Azadi LEAVE NOW! Kashmir is ours. #kashmirbelongs2us,”   tweeted Gambhir.

In Gambhir’s tumultuous tweet, there is a major warning. Sports and sportspersons alike are no longer bereft of giving an opinion over non-sporting matters. Sehwag trolling Gurmehar Kour-daughter of an ex-soldier- over her comment that ‘Pakistan didn’t kill her father, but war did’ was another example of a sportsperson crossing the limits of decency to please the majority.

In the garb of nationalism and patriotism, the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag have buried the sporting spirit under the avalanche of their words that promote hatred and hegemony.

For a true sports nerd the latest trend is worrisome. Gambhir and Sehwag lecturing on political matters without having a feel of other side of the story could set in an example for budding cricketers. Those wanting to emulate their cricketing performances will surely be affected by all. It would be difficult to deny that in this day and age of internet and social media, anything these cricketers having a bearing on their followers. They follow them in letter and spirit: performances, mannerism and more importantly mentality (picking their brains). 

One would hope common sense prevails and the tribe of Gambhirs and Sehwags doesn’t get bigger and sportspersons safeguard the sporting spirit which seems a history in contemporary times.

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