cricket, India, Pakistan, sports, Stories, WorldT20

Isn’t sports reduced to jingoism when it’s considered patriotic to win?

The Pakistani cricket team returned home only to find their fans in no mood to forgive them for their dismal showing in the T20 World Cup.

Chants of  ‘Shame, shame’ rent the air at the Allama Iqbal international airport in Lahore.

Cricketers in the Indian sub-continent are accustomed to such treatment from their volatile followers.

When they do well, they’re worshipped as demi-gods; when they fail, they’re devils incarnate.

Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Matthews was a sorry figure as he pleaded with the media and his countrymen back home to cut his young team a little slack after being knocked out from the tourney.

He said:

“It has been a disappointing few months for all of us. We’ve let down the fans and we’ve let down the whole country. We haven’t played good cricket at all. We’re disappointed. All we can do is try and stick to our combinations and not try and change the team too much. Try to pick about 20 players and re-evaluate them over six months — give them an opportunity to settle down and see what they come out with in terms of performances.

We can take decisions then. Quick decisions won’t solve this matter. We have to try and be patient. If you look at the style we played in, we are not deserving of a semifinal place. The team didn’t play well. That’s why we lost. “

India are the only sub-continental side to make the semis. New Zealand, West Indies and England make up the numbers.

The mercurial Shahid Afridi riled jingoists back home when he claimed that he felt more welcomed by Indian fans than anywhere else including Pakistan.

The identification of patriotism with sports is not restricted to just South-East Asia.

Wanting your fellow countryman to win is fine, but associating that support with patriotism is overdoing it.

On the far edge of the spectrum is Norman Tebbit’s Cricket Test of April 1990.

The parliamentarian infamously declared:

“A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”

He revived the controversy post the London bombings when he said:

“I do think had my comments been acted on those attacks would have been less likely.

What I was saying about the so-called “cricket test” is that it was a test of whether a community has integrated.

If a community was looking back at where it had come from instead of looking forward with the people to whom they had come to, then there is going to be a problem sooner or later.”

And in 2014, Tebbit produced an ancestry test.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, he said:

“One test I would use is to ask them on which side their fathers or grandfathers or whatever fought in the second world war. And so you’ll find that the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks were all on the right side. And so that’s a pretty good test isn’t it? Perhaps we’ll even manage to teach them to play cricket gradually over the years.”

Rick Ayers in the Huffington Post writes of the Super Bowl on the 4th of July:

“Twenty years ago, I would refuse to stand up for the Star Spangled Banner — making a small protest of the notion of imposing a rightist political ritual on the moment of a sporting event. Back then, one could look around and see plenty of others sitting. If anyone gave me a hard time, I would easily glare back, knowing I had my principles and my rights. Now I either stand up or find a way to be at the concession stands. The atmosphere is more challenging, more aggressively conformist. You could get hurt if you don’t participate in the ritual.

There are so many ways this hypocritical nod to ‘our troops’ is nauseating. The display of militaristic patriotism, the ritual unity of our ‘supporting our boys,’ is actually an act of complicity in sending them over to Iraq and Afghanistan to die. The super-patriots are not the friends of the GI’s; they are loading them in the death transports to the front.”

He adds:

“As I watch the soldiers march out in stiff uniforms, bearing a flag that almost covers the infield, I see the Americans around me adopt an attitude of reverence — our soldiers are our heroes and they deserve our love. Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago and an opponent of World War I, mused on the phenomenon of crowds cheering our troops as they marched down Main Street. We are not celebrating that they are going to go out and slay others, not really. We are honoring them because they are about to go out and be slain. Yes, their very suffering and death has sanctified them, has made these youths a holy object, someone from among us who we send out to die, to preserve our community, our way of life.

This does not have a rational basis — for the war may indeed be a disaster, a waste, a cruel joke. Thousands more may die while politicians dither and maneuver. No matter. The important thing is that they are to die and that is something that gives our lives meaning. It is primal, it is sick, how we send them off. How different if we were to see our identity, our sense of community, with other peoples in the world and not just in our narrow and embattled enclave. Our self-imposed nightmare.

And, of course, even those who oppose the disgusting wars America has launched in the Middle East stick to the narrative of the slaughtered GI’s, the victims. We are against the war but we support our troops. Someone needs to deliver the bad news. These are not just heroes. . . . or victims. These are Americans who are killing, slaughtering people in our name. Yes, Iraqi and Afghan families, parents and children, are being burned, blown open, lacerated by American weapons wielded by American youngsters. Get used to it. The trials of Marines for murder in Hamdania and Haditha will be added to the tortures of Abu Ghraib. And more horror stories are yet to surface. The Iraqi victims have no names in our consciousness but their suffering will not leave us in peace. Ultimately, to heal, our soldiers will have to confront not just their victimhood but their complicity in the crimes of this war.”

Avram Noam Chomsky, American philospher and political activist says:

“When I was in high school I asked myself at one point: ‘Why do I care if my high school’s team wins the football game? I don’t know anybody on the team, they have nothing to do with me… why am I here and applaud? It does not make any sense.’ But the point is, it does make sense: It’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority and group cohesion behind leadership elements. In fact it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports.”

David Alm on Contrary Blog echoes Chomsky and Ayers when he writes:

“Because if we’re already amped up about sports, then we’re also amped up about being American. And that’s exactly what makes the whole business (because that’s really all it is) so damn unsettling.”

Substitute American for whichever nationality you are, and you’ll find that the above statement resonates with you too if you’re averse to mixing patriotism, politics and sports.

It’s simply another form of jingoism.

And, perhaps, Indians understand it better than anybody else.

The T20 game at Dharamshala was moved to Kolkatta because the Himachal Pradesh state government refused to guarantee the safety of the visitors from across the Wagah border.

In the past, Shiv Sainiks have dug up pitches and threatened agitations whenever cricketing talks or relations resumed. The mileage that can be derived from such shenanigans around an Indo-Pak cricket game—not any other sport—that drives such posturing.

Can sports be above politics? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The isolation of the South African cricketing team was one of the drivers for the lifting of apartheid in that  nation. Yes, cricket fans never got to enjoy the likes of Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock but it was (arguably) a small price to pay.

India, too, have used sports as a weapon to protest apartheid. India refused to play South Africa in 1974 foregoing a chance to win a maiden Davis Cup. India’s Davis Cup tie at home against Israel occurred only after then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention.

The team made the final that year losing to Sweden.

India and Israel were again drawn to play each other the following year in Tel Aviv permission for which was denied by the External Affairs ministry. The encounter never materialised since both teams lost to their first round opponents.

Sporting policy is not entirely black or white. It’s shades of grey—like all questions and decisions surrounding ethics.

When will sports fans realize that?


I have been an IT professional with over 12 years professional experience. I'm an B.Sc. in Statistics, M.Sc in Computer Science (University of Mumbai) and an MBA from the Cyprus International Institute of Management. I have completed levels I and II of the CFA course. Blogging is a part-time vocation. I am also the author of four books, Those Glory Days: Cricket World Cup 2011, IPL Vignettes, Poems: An Anthology, and It's a Petting Sport---all available on Amazon Worldwide.


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