Good Read

Spoonfeedin WOrld

Lifestyle – Sport as Commerce

Santosh Desai

s the end of one day cricket as we have known it so far nigh? The argument against it seems clear enough- T-20 cricket is what gets the eyeballs, and Test cricket needs to be tolerated because it is allegedly the purest form of the game whereas one day cricket is neither here nor there. The success of the IPL has made it clear that the future of the game lies in shorter, more viewer friendly formats that pack in entertainment of every kind in the sandwich called cricket. Celebrities, cheerleaders, performances are all part of the menu as sports start competing with other formats of prime time television. In many ways, cricket is today a genre of television programming rather than a sport.

Perhaps it is time to ask a basic question- why is it so important that every sport be popular? And that too among those who watch it rather than those who play it? More importantly, is it fair to evaluate a sport by how much money it is able to generate? Sport was never meant to create wealth; if anything it is a counterpoint to the narrow purposefulness of normal life.

Consider the way we structure any activity that goes under the label of sport. It involves competing against each other or against the limitations imposed by nature in an activity that is functionally useless. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about any sport; hurling a leather projectile at a wooden staff in an attempt to hit wooden sticks is not an activity that humankind desperately needs. The nobility of sport comes from its ability to make us rise above our narrowly appointed selves and experience an exhilarated sense of universality. Human beings naturally take to sport; most of us would have, in our childhood taken to some sport or other or have invented games to divert ourselves. The act of competing against ourselves and others has been reward enough.

In any case, popularity is a mixed blessing for any sport. Most of those who follow Indian cricket today are impatient consumers rather than believing fans. The popularity of the sport has made lavished the glare of celebrityhood on our cricketers while taking away the aura of heroism. We worship the players only they do our bidding and are quick to heap abuse on them when they falter even a little.

The implications of the implicit shift towards privileging those sports that generate viewer interest and hence money are many. We start changing the sport itself in order to milk it- rules become fluid, formats keep changing, the mode of refereeing changes, the spirit in which the game is played evolves and the importance of the national badge too wanes. What is wrong with that, ask some and with good reason. Surely, sport too must evolve with the times, and unless it generates money, how will it sustain itself? What is so romantic about national level players dying in abject poverty, having represented the country in sports that do not attract spectators?

There is more than a little substance to these arguments. The danger is in taking this strand of thought as an absolute truth. There is a difference between players making a good living and the sport at its heart becoming a commercial enterprise. Equally in the name of staying relevant, if any sport tinkers with its rules too much, it loses the wholly artificial sanctity that is imbued with.

For there is nothing sacred about the rules of any sport. These are transparently, a construction of human beings; their power comes from the rigidity with which they are obeyed. In real life, we break many rules and often escape the consequences of doing so. In sport, this never happens. Rules, however artificial they might be, carry an aura of absoluteness. Once we start seeing these rules as manipulable, we destroy the sanctity that the game needs for us to believe in it.

In placing viewer interest above everything else, we are consuming sport with more apparent intensity but in a markedly more shallow way. The mode of playing is not as important, records and poring over statistics becomes less meaningful as rules keep changing and comparisons start becoming less valid. The game starts losing its sense of history as all that is important is the current spectacle on offer. We start being mere easily bored consumers of sport rather than passionate believers.

The people who represent India in archery or volleyball are no less proud of their India colours and strive to win no less harder. The kid throwing a ball against a wall is as rapt in perfecting his pretend craft as is Sachin Tendulkar. Sport means much more than fame, money, achievement and victory. We need to look beyond cricket not because other sport needs encouragement in the form of money but because sport is not essentially about money or popularity. An Olympic medal is worth the same regardless of the sport in which it is won.

In a world where everything is measured by money and popularity, sport should be the one arena that values the relentless human drive towards perfection regardless of the narrow personal gain. An athlete strains every sinew to run that fractional bit faster not because of the material gains that will follow but because he is strangely driven to do so. If sport stops believing in itself, it will in the name of popularity start being like everything else in our life. And that would be a shame.


October 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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