Saturday, September 25, 2010

Football like Politics

The Run of Play - the most incredible website on the wonder and terror of football has featured some articles over the last few weeks wherein football has been described as comedy and tragedy among other things.(For all those who share an interest in literature or the English language along with football, the site is a must visit.) That got me thinking on the bus back home this week, as to there must be other things too to which football is similar to. The obvious thing that came to my mind is club football is a lot like business..... till I figured it out in 5 seconds that Club Football IS Business (Later they actually featured a post on football billionaires too - incredibly). And then it suddenly hit me that football is a bit like Indian politics. Here's why: (BTW This post is not written in a Run of Play style. It is more like a Class 12 CBSE Board Exam answer paper style )
1) Powerful few: There are probably as many football clubs in the UK as there are political parties in India. And yet, the likely winners remain a powerful few....... You know which ones I am talking about....
2) Money matters: Money can buy the league, money can buy you cups in football...... In India, money power can win you seats and elections...
3) Hooliganism/ Gunda Raj: Football fans of many clubs indulge (or at least used to indulge) in Hooliganism or unruly, destructive, aggressive and bullying behaviour. Well, in India, so do political party workers and activists at times. 
 4) People switch sides often: Footballers often switch sides, moving from one rival club to another..... More worryingly so do politicians in India, moving from one party/ coallition to the other. For each William Gallas, we have a Kalyan Singh, Mamata or a Mayawati. And side switching (Dal-badal) takes an entirely different dimension if you go to Bihar as this link illustrates.
5) Excessive Media attention: The English or for that matter Italian or Spanish media pays far too much attention on Football in general and more disturbingly, the darker side of the private lives of the footballers. Here in India, there are too many not so nice stories about politicians filling our newspapers as well.
6) Controversies: With high stakes to play for - there is a controversy a day in football. Did the ball cross the line ?, Was the red card given correctly ?, Was it a penalty ? Was the match fixed by having favourable referees ? . Just to name a few footballing controversies. And in the same spirit, Indian politics is filled with controversies as well: Was the election rigged ? Was the CM involved in misappropriation of funds via fabrication of "vast herds of fictitious livestock" for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment was supposedly procured ? And then there are controversies about KICKBACKS - a term a very appropriate in both football and Indian politics.
7) Leadership of the unpopular: Almost nobody in France wanted Raymond Domenech as their coach of the national team but he remained in the post for over six years. Also almost nobody in India wants Suresh Kalmadi to head the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. But he has been so for God knows how many years.
8) It's all about bragging rights for the public: So your team wins the league or the party you support wins the election. All you get essentially is bragging rights - to go and brag to your neighbour or office worker about how you won and so on. Cause, let's face it, your team/party winning ain't raising your salary too much is it ?
I could have gone on a bit longer for the similarities don't end here. I am probably missing the most obvious connections The problem is I am a bit of a sucker for both European football and Indian politics. And I am not sure if I love them for all the wrong reasons ??

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cricket and Immorality

Sports resembles life in infinite ways. The good, the bad and the ugly of our society and culture are all displayed, in varying degrees on the sports fields. So, when we live in a world, where corruption is a fact of life, where crime is all around us, it will be naive to expect our sporting fields to be free of them.
Now, whenever a sporting scandal happens, I find that it often gets disproportionate media attention and coverage.  Which brings me to question, whether something like spot fixing on the cricket field is more worthy of attention than the day to day bribery which happen in our government offices for instance ? And secondly is it fair for us to expect our sportsmen to be on a higher plane of morality, or more incorruptible than the average man on the street ?
Anyway, moving on let me look at the various forms of cheating/ immorality that happens on our sports fields. For I find that certain forms are more reprehensible than others. Or to look at it differently, some are far more easier to understand and even empathise with than others.
1) Cheating done to help your own team in the natural course of play: Many, many examples come to my mind, but I will stick mainly to cricket for examples. For most of us, we  relate to it best.  Batsman gets a faint knick through to the keeper and doesn't walk off. Rather he waits for the umpire's decision and let's say 1 in 5 times he gets away with it and continues to bat. Or a fielder claims a catch which he knows to be a bump ball. Or appealing for a wicket when you know the batsman is not out. Somewhat similar to a handball on the football field. Or diving to win a freekick or penalty. Or doing what is termed as a professional foul. Now strictly speaking this can be termed as something wrong which is done by our players.Often the argument made by people in their defence is they play to the whistle or the umpire's decision. And there is some merit in the argument. For if there is a batsman who walks when his team is 210/1 but doesn't when 20 runs are required to win with just two wickets remaining, then he is simply misusing his image as a "walker". Now, when a cricketer does any of these things on the field, which are some form of cheating, he is opening himself up to criticism. My own take is that I understand why a player would do that, and at the end of the day it has been done to benefit or help your own team - so be it. I shall not lose sleep over arguments that cricket is a gentleman's game etc etc. Fact of life - so move on.
2) Well Planned cheating/ strategy done in a systematic manner to help your own team: Two examples from cricket that come to my mind straightaway - Bodyline and ball tampering. There was definitely a sense of pre-determination in both of them, an effort to bend the rules and derive maximum advantage of the situation and playing conditions. Perhaps these are more condemnable than category one. And while I don't subsribe to them, but still I can understand what is the purpose - which is to help your team and win. Systematic and targetted sledging can also be an example here - but then we can just call it attempts to mentally disintegrate the opposition and walk away
3) Immoral activities/ corruption to "screw" your own team: In other words, things like match fixing. Where players take money to underperform and lose a match. I find this to be most disturbing and absolutely unpardonable. For this has no greater objective or goal in mind i.e. winning a match for your team. Rather, the player is letting down millions of fans/ countrymen. The financial incentives for doing that make it comparable with any financial fraudulent activity which people in the corporate world indulgem. But as a sports fan, I find this category of cheats most disgusting.
4) Trivial and ridiculous incidents which have no greater purpose in mind: And this brings me to the incidents which have happened in the cricket world in the last two months. The Suraj Randiv no ball (assuming it was intentional) to deny an opposition batsman a century. Or the latest spot fixing where the Paki players are making a quick buck by bowling a no-ball or playing out a maiden over. Frankly in my opinion, these are trivial and ridiculous.
This incident of spot fixing is something which made me laugh a lot. And on deeper thoughts the main persons being cheated out there are the "honest" people who are laying bets on these little events of a cricket match. The beauty of betting is that you are making an attempt to predict correctly events which are uncertain, by spot fixing such things the uncertainty involved is being removed, "the sanctity" of a bet is being compromised :).
Anyway, coming back to these incidents in general, I fail to see why 24 hour news channels should be working themselves up in an indignant fury. The only worry is whether these incidents are just the tip of an iceberg of match fixing, but then they can't be determined in a television studio, can they ?
As mentioned before, of all the forms of sporting corruption, what has disturbed me the most has been match fixing. For let us not kid ourselves, sports is a serious business and sporting stars are our heroes. Ten years ago, the match fixing scandals had left me a very disturbed and sad individual. And then I had found my redemption in the 2001 India - Australia series and since then cricket had been good fun once again. This time, the older and perhaps more cynical person in me has found these incidents trivial and rather than being shocked and saddened, I have merely shrugged a shoulder.
And one last thing. I just hope the all the people out there criticising the corrupt cricketers on TV and on the internet are the types who never fudge medical bills, pay their taxes fully and never pay a bribe to get things done for themselves.
PS: There has been still been some good stuff written by bloggers about this latest spot fixing controversy, which are well worth a read - so here's some of them: Greatbong in his typical style, Anthony Chettup on Short of a Length (where you get other nice links as well) and an extremely serious and moving piece from Venkat Ananth. I highly recommend reading them.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. Copy Pasting from this site is allowed only if you give credits. Ok ?