Friday, September 10, 2010

Seeking Sports News. About Sports!

My parents are not what you would describe as avid football fans. They watch the occasional Premier League and World Cup game. So I was a little surprised when both of them commented in quick succession on Wayne Rooney’s extra-marital escapades, saying more or less the same thing - ‘What’s wrong with these guys?’

Footballers having affairs; spot-fixing investigations; the sordid mess that the Commonwealth Games in Delhi have become, with reports of Indian athletes being caught doping, and organizers being caught with their hands in the till – just a quick overview of headlines in the sports sections over the last couple of weeks. And if we were to look only a little further back, we’d be able to add money-laundering at the IPL; the French football squad’s descent into factions; Tiger Woods’ excesses and controversy at the Tour De France to the list.

We admire our athletes because we believe they transcend ordinary physical limitations; practice their sport with a monk-like zeal and discipline; compete for greater-than-ordinary spoils. We expect sports to be entertaining - but sports, at least at the national level, have never been just about entertainment. While political and corporate battles are motivated by power and greed, we believe that sporting contests are motivated by the desire to win – a desire born of pride in representing one’s country. Somewhere, underlying all these beliefs and assumptions, lurks the na├»ve hope that not only are our athletes stronger, faster, and tougher than the others, but somehow, better. We don’t expect them to be models of propriety, but we do hope that they are endowed with some semblance of character.

While it’s always problematic to look back at the past as a ‘simpler’ time, I do believe that there was an age when sportsmen and women competed with a certain amount of pleasure and pride – and the sports headlines were about sports. Perhaps it was because athletes at the time didn’t have a choice – the material rewards and temptations were limited. Perhaps controversies were better concealed and less widely disseminated.

My father grew up watching the greats play at Brabourne and Wankhede. They made 250 rupees per test match, didn’t star in commercials, and played memorable cricket. They may or may not have been great men, but they weren’t embarrassments (either on or off the pitch).

It would be too much to say that I am disappointed in our athletes. To say so would be to presume both a claim on my part, and an obligation to behave on theirs. They say a society gets the government it deserves. Looking at the sports pages today, I’m beginning to think that our society is getting the athletes it deserves as well.

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