Wanted: A Spirit Of Sportsmanship!

Wanted: A Spirit Of Sportsmanship!

Prof.T K Thomas

One was watching the historic finals of the World cup between France and a new finalist Croatia. Three young boys between the age of 4 and 8 were thoroughly enjoying every bit of it and commented on the performance of either team. Two of them wanted France to win, while one was for the underdog Croatia. The next day early morning the threesome were elated and gave a commentary on how their favorite team France had won 4-2. They rattled out the names of the French players especially the teenager Kylian Mbappe.

Sports is a great leveler. The three kids watching the World Cup final had no prejudices or partiality but merged with millions of football fans around the world in cheering their favorite team. A true sports person is supposed to be above all petty differences and prejudices of caste, colour, creed religion and language. It is interesting that of the 23 member World Cup winning French team 19 were immigrants or sons of immigrants, 15 of them had African ancestry and 7 were Muslims. The example of the Indian Premier League [IPL] is also worth mentioning here. Players from different Indian states and different cricket playing nations come to represent an Indian city team like Chennai [Super Kings], Bangalore [Royal Challengers] or Hyderabad [Sunrisers] and people of that city and state cheer them even if there were not many players from the respective states or the city. It did not matter to them that the Chennai team was captained by Mahender Singh Dhoni from Jharkand, the Bangalore team by Virat Kohli, a Punjabi from Delhi or the Hyderabad team by David Warner, an Australian! Rashid Khan Arman [the full name of Rashid Khan] of the Sunrisers, an Afghan player had become the darling of the crowds in all the cities where IPL was played.

Unfortunately communalism has not spared even sports in today’s India. In this context it is worth recalling how Mahatma Gandhi had used sports to help promote communal harmony and his struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa [1893-1915]. He started two football clubs - the Johannesburg and Pretoria football clubs –and named them Passive Resisters Soccer Clubs to promote the concept of nonviolence. Similarly he was against communal tags like Hindu, Parsee, Muslim or other communal or caste cricket teams in the Pentangular and other cricket tournaments. To Gandhi ji such communal elevens in Bombay were against the spirit of sportsmanship. So, how will one react to a present Union Minister, demanding reservations by the BCCI for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes?

On the eve of the Birth Centenary of Nelson Mandela [17th July], former US President Barack Obama delivered the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation in Johannesburg. He quoted Nelson Mandela from a 1964 speech, “Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another.”The observations that Obama made after that quote articulated the wonderful diversity and mutual acceptance citing the example of the French football team that just won the World Cup. Obama said, ”Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian and by the Mexican and by the Bantu and by the Luo and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion- that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common goals and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually deliver practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talent and energy and skill of all its people. And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks, not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they are French. They are French.”

Diversity is what marks the foundations of our nation and any attempt to question that would be disastrous. We need to take a leaf out of Obama’s observations as India is facing a erosion in the pride of being a nation of wonderful diversity. Haven’t we always been proud of our ‘wonderful unity in diversity? In fact our films, literature and arts celebrated it. There are plenty of examples for that. The musical presentation on unity on Doordarshan featuring the nation’s musical and artistic talent had given pronounced articulation to this in “Mile sur mera tumhara”. Unfortunately there seems to be a departure from such masterpieces to a nation in flux with extremist voices of all hues taking center stage. A cursory look at television channels give the discerning, a feeling that incidents of violence with communal overtones, lynching of people on false or fake news on social media, crime against women and even babies have an all pervading effect. The reactions coming from the political class are predictable and on communal or partisan lines.

The level of political discourse appears to have touched the nadir. Cutting across party lines there are plenty of voices that abhor peace, tolerance or nonviolence. The fine line dividing what was considered the fringe and more sober or serious voices in political discourse is shrinking. How will one react to a Harvard educated suave politician garlanding the accused and convicted in lynching cases. What can one say when blatantly communal statements are made by constitutional functionaries? E P Unny’s cartoon ‘Business as usual’ last week in the Indian Express tells the story. It shows someone marching with a flag with the inscription ‘Congress Muslim’ ; a student looking at “Military training for youth” and a caption,” Raksha Mantri to Shiksha Mantri are Marching”.

Unny in fact sums up the communal approach of the ruling party whereby reducing the 2019 general election to polarization and the strategy is to demonize minorities and an open agenda of minority bashing. The soft pedaling of lynching and vigilantism allegedly have tacit support of the powers that be for lumpen fringe elements to indulge in violence. The Supreme Court’s observations last week of lynching and mobocracy point at that. Instances of lynching prompted by fake news on the social media of child lifters have been reported from many states resulting in the brutal killing of a number of innocent people by mobs during the month of July. Even as the apex court indicted the government there was yet another vigilante killing in the name of the cow in Rajasthan. The powers that be dismiss such happenings as isolated or stray cases; issue condemnation statements and say “stringent action would be taken and the guilty will not be spared”.

If there are no issues of lynching and mobocracy how is it that last Tuesday [17th July] the Supreme Court has condemned these offences and told the Parliament to draft new laws to counter such heinous crimes ? One of the major highlights of the judgment pronounced by the Chief Justice Deepak Mishra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud is, “It shall be the duty of the central government as well as the state governments to take steps to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind”.

Not to be outdone, an opposition leader in a recent article had said that “it seems safer in many places these days to be a cow than a Muslim”! It is another matter that his party chief has warned him. For an earlier remark in the same vein his office was vandalized by rightwing activists seeking his apology for ‘Hindu Pakistan’ comment.

The latest meanwhile in Kerala is the withdrawal of his first novel “Meesha’ [Moustache] by short story writer S. Hareesh, being serialized in the prestigious Matrubhoomi weekly. Hareesh allegedly withdrew his novel after receiving threats from right wing groups- one is not sure whether they are fringe or mainstream – line is shrinking?! It seems, gone are the days when Malayalies were proud of their liberal and progressive writers and literature.

The marathon 12 hour debate on the no confidence motion against the government in the Lok Sabha was like a curtain raiser for the forthcoming 2019[?] Parliament election. The debate was replete with jhumlas, boasting, recounting of events in the distant dead past and the living present, claims and counter claims, personal attacks and counter attacks, walk outs and abstentions by allies of the government, sarcasm and satire both sublime and the ridiculous garnished with a hug and a wink to boot! Parties have already declared war for the impending election and claim that everything is fair in love and war! So no sportsman spirit or reconciliation; only an electoral success matters!


“It took Alwar Police more than three hours to travel six kilometers while taking lynching victim Rakbar Khan to nearest hospital in Ramgarh. The cows were taken to a gaushala ten kilometers away- a good one hour before Khan was brought to the hospital, dead.

[The Times of India, this morning, 23 July 2018]