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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is Sport Identical to Identity, Globally?

Author: Kiran Patil
(Originally published in Stylehub, a magazine published from Delhi)

“Competition in the World Cup is an expression of national conflict, and the sportsmen representing their nation or their state, primarily expressions of their imagined community,” said historian Eric Hobsbawm.

Until I read Ashish Nandy’s scholarly analysis on Cricket and sports in general, I would withhold myself from writing anything that has a mention of ‘sport’ in it. Not because I had some inhibitions for sports, but the fact is that I barely understood any sort of sport except Cricket; cricket obviously because I grew up seeing boys play all through my life!

And after having read and understood Nandy’s different outlooks on sport, to be more precise on Cricket, I am sort of convinced that sport is not merely a game. It’s already transcended the idea of a game that engages maybe a billion plus crowd to a cognitive relaxation. It has gone beyond this pigeon-holed concept and has thrown itself open to analysis of different kinds, including ethnic analysis.

It might be a little surprising for a few us as to how this game or any game for that matter is linked to the cultural deliberation or has anything to do with national identity! It is because a game is backed by the popular imagination or ‘imagined community’ of the representative country, which subliminally evokes nationalistic pride in the minds of the people of that particular nation. Being Indians, we have seen this several times during the World Cup(s), especially when the match is between India and Pakistan.

Mirroring an Identity

As much as the passion and the energies produced by any game stimulate hate and resentment, so too does sport force a mingling of differences. It is not new to us as we are probably the only country on the planet that are the most fanatically united when it comes to cricket. Cricket has always played a pivotal role in bringing together otherwise factious Muslims, Hindus, and Christians sections of the country.

Sport can invoke a unity that reality otherwise makes it intangible or mysterious to define. When Indian cricket team won the first World Cup in 1983….our team embodied a sense of responsibility and togetherness that was never before seen in the cricket guild. Besides, it also personified a multicultural image of the country. Multicultural because players from different sections of society played seamlessly together dogged by their ethnic diversity that was once put to shame by outsiders who did not believe in Indian way of religious assortment.

This win therefore, scripted by Kapil Dev’s able hands, changed it for all and forever. The perception that India could form globally soon after this win was of the utmost important for India as a nation state, exclusively because India could establish itself as a country that had mastered the game which was thought up by the British. This was also the same game that aroused the sense of urgency for questioning the British that if they can treat Indians equal on the field, why not off the field?

I would yet again like to quote Nandy as he’s rightly pointed out although the cricket was invented by the British, it was unsurprisingly meant for Indians to thrive on.

"Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British" says Ashis Nandy, defying history and eventually making it completely Indian game. Indians, as we see everywhere when the tournaments are on, watch this migrated game with rapt attention. Because it has instilled ‘fancied nationalism’ coupled with ‘erotic pleasure for nationhood.’

Same could be very much appealing to the country (and a game too!) that has hosted this year’s (2014) World Cup in Sao Paolo, inviting staggering number of players and audiences from across the globe. Alike Cricket, Football is yet another game that has transcended the borders (and sometimes have conjured them) to acquire a new interpretation to become more meaningful. But the power and the mystery lies in the team of eleven men (same is the case for Cricket too! Only difference here is cricketers don’t wear shorts!) in shorts. These are the same men who mirror the fears and worries of the societies they represent in the collective struggle to win over the other team. Football has always been a showpiece of identity.

As is true for the cricket, football playing countries as well reflect the deeper sense of national integrity unsurprisingly through their respective teams. Although the origin of the sport is not as clear as the cricket, it has always remained controversial because of the fact that there are numerous claimants who believe that it was their nation that thought up this game many centuries ago.

As Cricket was used by Indians to resist colonial domination by impelling the British to budge on equality and independence, so was the football! Football too became a medium of anti-colonial struggle that drew attention from all over the Africa. It was this game that introduced a uniformity between colonizers and colonized that did not exist anywhere in the colonial countries.

Sport can do much more than we humans could ever imagine; it is a vehicle that transmits a social change across ethnicities.

If any game is the imagined community, then the games like football and cricket transfer these ‘fancied communities’ into flesh.

About the Author:

Kiran Patil is a former journalist and freelance writer based in Bangalore. His body of work covers social sciences, politics, cultural studies, cinema,  anthropology and international politics. Currently, he is working with a MNC based in Bangalore.

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