IPL Cricket Cocktail Kills Fake Patriotism!

May 13, 2009

“My country, right or wrong”, is the thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother drunk or sober”. – G K Chesterton, English essayist (1874-1936).

Cricket involving international players – the five-day tests, ODIs and World Cup – were played on behalf of nations and were charged with patriotism. As we approach the grand finale of the second edition of the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) fixtures in South Africa, it is interesting to note that IPL has killed patriotism that marked the cricket fixtures earlier. In the non-IPL format one had to remember countries such as India, Pakistan and England. Now we have evocative brand identities – Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals, Deccan Chargers, Royal Challengers, Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. Then there is identity confusion with dominant owners like Shah Rukh Khan and Vijay Mallya hogging the limelight - in addition to the highly valued elite players strutting the field and attracting popular awe. In the bargain, there is no place for patriotism under the IPL regime.

Let us now go back to the era when patriotism was king in cricket. This scene goes back to twenty years. As a foursome was having a game of bridge, a cricket test match at the Wankhade Stadium in Mumbai was turning hot for the visitors. At the announcement of the fall of another wicket, one of the foursome asked: “So, Indians will win?” “What do you mean by Indians?” It was the harsh tone of another of the foursome. “What is the matter?” -  The first one asked in puzzlement. “What is the matter? What do you mean by Indians? Say We”.

That was the first time that the first man had anyone assessing his patriotism and finding it lacking. He was greatly disturbed in his mind from that time till the following morning when his newspaper assured him that he was not a freak. Its headline on the test match read: “India snatch fine victory”.  That soothing discovery did not last long. For when he read the detailed report, it had another disturbing piece of news. Skipper XYZ was critical of the behaviour of a section of the crowd in the stadium. “It was unique the way every one of us who got out was booed. Perhaps that’s their way of saying hard luck”. This is a long cry from the time-honoured sporting stance that is embodied in the wish: “Let the best man (team) win!” In sports, as in justice, impartiality should not only be there but seen to be there. It is notable that in Mumbai, eleven out of nine million from the visiting team’s country were playing against eleven out of 900 million of the host country –thousands of miles away from their home ground.

Such disgraceful exhibition of un-sportiveness is a facet of personality plagued by a deep-rooted malaise. Such persons passionately believe that they have a monopoly of patriotism. It is of such people that HG Well had said: “Patriotism has become a mere national self-assertion, a sentimentality of flat-cheering with no constructive duties”.

The second instance of misplaced patriotism in cricket manifested during the four test match series, between India and Australia, beginning in Bangalore. It once again harked back to the banner of patriotism in the controversy between Nimbus Communications Ltd. and Prasar Bharati.  Nimbus, a private broadcaster, in February 2006, successfully secured the rights to broadcast all international cricket played under the auspices of Board of Cricket Control in India, up to 2010, by paying $ 612 million, after an intensive bidding war with rival broadcasters. Prasar Bharati, through its Doordarshan, broadcasts into millions of homes, specially across rural India, where Nimbus’s NeoSports channel does not reach through the cable route. Prasar Bharati claimed its right to broadcast the matches unconditionally on the basis of Union Government’s up-linking guidelines that made it mandatory for private broadcasters to share the feed of sporting events of “national interest” with DD. Nimbus responded that such claim constituted the infringement of its contractual rights and vitiated its commercial viability in terms of earning profit from the contract with BCCI.

Negotiations between the two contending parties commenced and various options were offered to Prasar Bharati – which were rejected by the latter.  But, what is notable is that while these negotiations were going on, I&B Minister, Dasmunshi, jumped into the fray accusing Nimbus of failing the test of patriotism by refusing live feed to DD. This seemed to be a case of taking shelter under the petticoat of patriotism to claim a commercial advantage for the public broadcaster – to the disadvantage of Nimbus. The matter then went to court and there is an interim order under which allowed DD to broadcast by deferring by seven minutes after the event is aired live by Nimbus.

Irrespective of the specific issues, the broader issue of the State bullying in matters which are purely commercial is open to debate – especially when patriotism is dragged into the fray. The question mark is over the Centre’s up-linking guidelines which make it mandatory for private broadcasters to share the feed of sporting events of “national interest”. Nimbus argued that the guidelines have no authority of law, violate intellectual property rights and the official stance amounted to forced acquisition of rights. The government is now planning to pass a law to give legal cover to the earlier, contested guidelines
What is the national interest in cricket? One can talk about popular interest and the anxiety of the powers of the day to pander to popular demand, with vote banks in mind. The “national interest” can tomorrow extend to fashion shows and beauty contests. The government may have the strength of an elephant; but it should use it gently like an ant   - within the framework of law – and not dragging patriotism into it.

But, wearing patriotism on the sleeves is visible on the conduct of players also. They solemnly declare that they are playing for the country. Cricket is their gateway to enormous riches through advertising and endorsements. With such non-cricket money at stake, they cannot concentrate on their play. Such pretenders to patriotism are not beyond match-fixing and letting down their country. For such players, their patriotism is matter of personal convenience. Patriotism hides many sins under its skirt. Many dishonestly seek refuge in it.

The third instance of patriotism ruling sports is the Union Sports Ministry’s recent decision to bar those who do not hold Indian passport from representing India in international sport competitions like Davis Cup. This ruling now excludes Prakash Amritraj from competing in Davis Cup and Sunitha Rao and Sikha Uberoi from Fed Cup.

The fourth and latest instance of fake patriotism is the way the IPL fixtures  were hijacked to South Africa to rake in billions without trying  enough to synchronize the events in India to suit the country’s election and security concerns. The main concern of IPL is not cricket, nor patriotism, but paisa vasool!

 The IPL fixtures have thrown patriotism out of the window. The focus has shifted from national teams to brand teams or metro teams with cocktail of players drawn from many countries playing for the eight different branded teams. This is well reflected in the ad reproduced alongside which claims that, instead of patriotism, a brand of liquor brings the team members together and keeps them bonded – the crowning of booze and Mammon!  Whether the exit of patriotism in the IPL format is good for the game is an open question.

John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).

by John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Charles D''Mello, Pangala

    Thu, May 14 2009

    What patriotism we are speaking in sports !!??? Every player is playing for his personal benifit first and by that way country will be glorified if he or Team wins !!!!?? There can not be any patriotism in game and we must not expect that even !!!???? And so is IPL...They are playing for their benifit and that is not wrong !!!!???

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