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World Cup Cricket, Indian Ruling Class
And Neglect Of Sports For People

By Vidyadhar Date

23 February, 2011

I am one of the few people around to have had a chance to chat with the renowned batsman C.K. Nayudu , known for his towering sixes. I have grown up as a cricket lover, I have covered cricket from the age of 18 as a journalist, have seen Sunil Gavaskar bat much before he came to tests. But now I have stopped watching cricket. Why do I say this at the height of the cricket fever over the World Cup ?

Let everyone enjoy the world cup but I want to raise a few points. Let me start with this. The Press Club of Mumbai organised a lavish function in Mumbai on February 15 to give awards for excellence in sports journalism in memory of Mr K.N. Prabhu, and for crime reporting in memory of Mr Pradeep Shinde.. Prabhu was for many years the sports editor of the Times of India and I was his colleague ..

Cricket and crime are obviously two far extreme fields. But this is no longer so considering recent developments about match fixing, betting, IPL the shameful auction of cricketers and so many other rackets. Even Ayaz Memon, a veteran cricket writer and known supporter of the cricket establishment, said at the function that now a cricket journalist also needs to know about chartered accountancy and stock exchange and so on.

Prabhu was different from other sports journalists in that he was well read and socially aware. That is why he knew and understood the importance of C.L.R. . james, the black West Indian Marxist historian and author of the famous book Beyond a boundary. He was known for the famous line - what do they know of cricket, who only of cricket know. What it means is that cricket is much more than a game. One has to understand a wider reality. Merely knowing the game is not enough.

That is why I was struck at the function by Prabhu’s photogrph with James in the press gallery during a test match in the West Indies. James’s book is widely seen as the best book on cricket ever written. Yet, how many people in India have ever heard of him or read his book ?. This is a real shame in a country where the cricket establishment is collecting hundreds of crores of rupees in profit. More shamefully, the game has now been turned into a big scandal and a racket with thousands of crores of rupees being spent on betting for cricket matches.

James wrote on the beauty of cricket but he also dwelt on how the game gave the black West Indians a sense of pride and became a rallying point against the British colonial rulers. They could defeat their rulers in the game of cricket. That was the power of cricket and in a way this anticipated what Aamir Khan’s popular film Lagaan conveyed many many years later.

James also used his writing on cricket to make people aware of the discrimination against the black people by the whites in cricket teams. He also used his writing to focus on the need to fight the colonial rulers. It was only after a long struggle that the famous Frank Worrell became the first black player to captain the West Indies in 1960. Before that the teams were always led by white players. I still remember in the late fifties the team was led by a white player called Gerry Alexander, he was a wicket keeper. He was the captain even though there were far superior players like the great Worrell. Those were the days of the three great Ws, Weeks, Worrell and Walcott. James consistently championed the case of Worrell as captain and he was made captain in 1960 and then began the rise of West Indies as a cricketing nation.

James also wrote an acclaimed play on the revolt of slave labour in which the great actor Paul Robeson played the main role.

Unfortunately, now the Indian ruling class has now reduced cricket into an opium of the masses. If it was not for devices like cricket, we would have had a popular revolt like in Egypt.

The ruling class is now using the popularity of cricket for its own ends. The ruling class knows that it has failed the people and that in the world its own position is very low because of widespread poverty. So it wants to create a false image that we are great because we are good in cricket. See this big headline on the front page of the Times of India of 17 february, 2011, the opening day of the world cup tournament. `Will India rule the world again’ ? This actually shows the deep inferiority complex of our ruling class and its pitiable quest to assert its bogus greatness .

Cricket is actually played by just a handful of countries. . So it is quite ridiculous to say we are tops in the world. The real yard stick of being top in the world in sports would be athletics or football which have universal participation. But here our record is shameful. In football we do badly even in Asian games.

And this talk about ruling the world is so uncivilized and laughable considering the complete failure of the Indian ruling class to meet the basic needs of the masses..

Mr Sharad Pawar alone cannot be faulted for the obsession with cricket, promoting this game to the level it has reached at the cost of other games. Even the organised Left has failed to evolve an alternative sports policy. Mr Pawar at least early in his career was a patron of simple, indigenous, Indian games like kabaddi and kho kho as well as wrestling. But now these games are being thoroughly ignored while cricket is pampered.

The rot began much earlier. Mr K.N. Prabhu saw it in those days when the Wankhede stadium was coming up in the early seventies. He used to criticise it and for the right reasons. Those were the days of cement shortage. Yet, the stadium was built, just a few yards away from the Brabourne stadium. What a terrible waste of national resources. And all for the ego of a few people. The politicians were unhappy that the Cricket club of India controlled the brabourne stadium and they had little control over it. So Mr S.K. Wankhede, the congress politician and then minister, took the lead and the new stadium was built..

Both these stadiums are highly under utilised , they serve little purpose in normal times. Then we have another big stadium in Navi Mumbai also built by another politician D.Y. Patil where the IPL final was played. People would even tolerate corruption and feudalism in sports but the real point is the politicians have so completely neglected people’s active participation in sports as well as their physical health.

There is also a serious problem of politicians and players becoming more greedy. Sachin Tendulkar is great as a player but why should he with all his crores of rupees want concession for building a gymnasium in his new bungalow being in Bandra west in Mumbai ? Some time ago, according to media reports, he wanted to get hold of a plot in Bandra which was reserved for the houseless. What will he do with the crores and crores he already has ?. After all there is a limit to human consumption .

The Maharashtra Times gave quite a mischievous heading to a front page report saying the coastal zone regulations were coming in the way of Sachin’s fitness. What prevents Sachin from building a gym in the bungalow without seeking concessions which would amount to crores of rupees.?

After all there would be enough space in a bungalow for a family of just four people for a gym. I have seen the plot. It is big enough.

The Wankhede stadium is now lavishly renovated for the World Cup but it will have very little space for common people as most tickets will go the cricket clubs and corporates shelling out huge amounts for their special seats which are priced beyond the wildest dreams of common people.

In the West people are asked not to bring their cars for big sports events as this creates traffic jams. But in Mumbai the government does not have the guts to ask the rich to use public transport for this event. The stadium is bang next to the major local railway terminus of Churchgate. Yet, the rich want to bring their cars and the police now have to scratch their heads to see how to arrange for the parking. A complete waste of resources and time.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. datebandra@yahoo.com




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