Sports Sans Borders
Political interventions and favoritism mars the beauty of sports and harms the sportsman’s spirit.
In the subcontinent, cricket is a fever, it is a frenzy, it makes us forget all our problems and cheer for our teams like we have never cheered for anything in our lives before. It is heartening to see the amazing ways in which citizens of a country get together – regardless of their ethnic differences, provincial rivalries and religious contradictions – when their national team is playing in a major tournament. All are one and cheering for a single team made up of players belonging to different provinces, religions and ethnic backgrounds.
Besides supporting our own country, we also enjoy cricket matches between other teams, sometimes even cheer for them, especially when they are playing against our rivals. And so cricket, one of the most amazing games in the subcontinent, continues to inspire and unite over one and a half billion people across Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Notice how people do not care which religion the players belong to or which ethnic class they represent as long as they have the right skills and competence to win a game. We respect players who are good in what they do and what they deliver on the field irrespective of their nationality and race. Players like Sachin Tandulkar, Javed Miandad, Adam Gilchrist, Brian Lara and Jacque Kallis are revered and respected across the globe in every cricket-playing nation.
Such behavior sends out a strong message, loud and clear, that deep down at the core of our hearts, we really don’t care about religion, ethnicity, political affiliation; we want to enjoy life, we support merit and love camaraderie.
Merit and ability, which unfortunately have been sidelined in many South Asian societies, especially in government circles, have been replaced by nepotism and favoritism that takes precedence in the minds of cricket fans. Those who have spent their entire lives supporting preferential treatment and discrimination, sit in stadiums or in front of their TVs and pray with their hands clasped and eyes shut tight, hoping fervently that competent players have been selected by the selection boards. Unfortunately, they know in their heart of hearts that the selectors are also a part of the same society where merit does not define selection criteria.
Sports and a sportsman’s spirit gives us hope that we, human beings, do have a heart; we do have the passion to enjoy life without borders and without nepotism. The world, unfortunately, has changed drastically. Now, governments are ready to kill over border infringements and people are at each other’s throat on minor ethnic and religious differences. Why have we – the civil society, the educated, the opinion-makers – lost the ability to put some sanity into international relations, into our societies where senseless violence and terrorism has made life difficult and adversely affected business growth and its sustenance?
Governments do disrupt the amazing world of sports where merit and only merit is the name of the game. An example of government interference in sport is that of India banning the Pakistani team from touring the country. A more recent example is of a ban placed by the Bangladeshi Cricket Control Board on Bangladeshi fans, stopping them from waving flags of any country other than their own. Thankfully though, the ban was lifted after a few days.
One of the worst examples of
mixing politics and sports is that of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when the U.S. and its allies stopped their players from attending the games. This was followed by a tit-for-tat reaction by the USSR when the country and its allies disallowed their players from attending the Los Angeles Olympics four years later.
These actions ruined the careers of many deserving athletes, depriving them of a chance to prove their mettle. As a result of political realities taking precedence, the Olympics did not showcase the best athletes from across the globe. Political rivalries hurt the very spirit of the sport.
A ray of hope still exists that sports have the ability to provide the opportunities or the avenues where the entire humanity can get together and where merit can prevail. If sports get tainted due to political intervention or favoritism, it will harm the sportsman’s spirit of citizens supporting their teams.
Unlike sports, the impact of nepotism and favoritism is quite blatant and obvious in government circles and businesses. The damage in these sectors is severe and broadbased. In underdeveloped societies, the impact of nepotism is deeper and lasts for decades, giving impetus to other problems such as poverty and weaker institutions. Let’s support sportsmanship and merit in each and every aspect of our lives. The writer works in the corporate sector and is active on various business forums and trade bodies.