Category Archives: Sports

Sex, Drugs…and Sport?!

If you’re stuck in the time warp where sex and drugs were the prerogative of rockstars and writers seeking inspiration in Bohemian cafes, snap out of it, pronto.

The term ‘role model’ is on its way out- for the world is losing the squeaky clean personalities that you could point to for their agonising saintliness faster than the ozone layer. While depravity was considered to have set in long ago in cinema and music, and lifestyles were openly criticised and condemned, sport has been relatively slow in making inroads into the world of the celebrated and the doomed. Of late, though, incidents have occurred aplenty to reinforce the notion that money corrupts- or what we popularly like to believe.

Every major sporting tournament is normally followed by a whiplash of accusations. Insults fly, murky waters rise above acceptable levels and formerly deified people find themselves ground under the heels of autocratic revenge-seekers. It isn’t as if either party has a clean sheet to display; it is just the timing of such incidents that calls their authenticity into question.

Sex scandals have hit sport in an extremely hard way. Tiger Woods had the most infamous fall from grace in recent history, his various sexual encounters coming as a huge shock to people around the world who’d been viewing him as the epitome of class and sophistication- elements which golf does demand, to a certain extent, elite game that it is- and the taint refuses to leave him in peace as he is still searching for a win since his comeback in

Football has more or less followed down the same lane, the numerous scandals involving English players and this week, French footballers, placing things in a very ugly light. Doping was, until not too long ago, the biggest menace to sport, but things have rapidly changed. Considering the tremendous reach of sports, particularly among young people, it is imperative that sportspersons should maintain a clean image. The intense amount of scrutiny they face day in, day out, thanks to the pervasive nature of modern media, doesn’t make things easy- but that is just one of the several onerous trappings of sport and money.

Scandals of this sort almost make regular skirmishes in the heat of battle sound ridiculous. Betting and accepting money in return for information seem absurdly normal. You could almost laugh at the people who heatedly debate if players who don’t choose to walk when they’re out are ruining the reputation of cricket. More such discussions would perhaps mark a gradual return to faith and competition. I am quite glad of the discussion on whether Alberto Contador should have waited for Andy Shleck while the latter was putting his own chain in order- the arguments for gentlemanly behaviour in sport are refreshing.

Sportspersons should return to traditional follies. Tackle your opponents, by all means- claw them and hurt them, crash into their cars deliberately and obstruct them, kick their ankles and pretend you know nothing about it, watch them cringe in pain and walk by coldly- all this can be almost excused as behaviour natural to the heat of the moment, it can even be an effective indicator of your passion and patriotism. We’ll wean you off those transgressions by and by. But do, for now, try and stay away from drugs and underage prostitutes. The purpose of sport is the thrill of competition- for other things, we have the movies.

Waving the Flag

A hard-earned victory for Spain brought down the curtains on the FIFA World Cup 2010. The ill-tempered final saw a profusion of yellow cards and a first-time winner; but there are better reasons for which this tournament deserves to be remembered.

World Cup football came to Africa for the first time in its eighty-year-old history, and South Africa won the honour to host it over Egypt and Morocco. Perhaps it is only fitting that this troubled country should have received the privilege- it gave South Africa the chance to bury its stained past and portray a new, vibrant front, sending out a strong message against racism. There were concerns over the nation’s preparedness to stage the tournament and the pace of organization, but South Africa managed to dispel these fears and pull off a splendid event.

South Africa has not had it easy. A tremendous amount of strife, racial tension and colonial exploitation wreaked havoc in a country richly endowed with natural resources. Apartheid broke the spirit of the country, but one man stood tall and led by example- Nelson Mandela’s determination did not crumble in the face of political disturbance, and he was the force that pulled the country together.

Not very many years have passed since apartheid was entirely abolished, and South Africa has had a lot of rebuilding to do in this period. The economy suffered; poverty and unemployment were rampant. Political systems underwent changes, crime and disease- AIDS, in particular- reared their ugly heads. Having been banned from international sport as a result of sanctions imposed during the apartheid era, South Africa had to struggle back into the fray and make its presence felt. And today, it has just finished playing host to an international sporting event- one of global proportions- with remarkable success.

Reeling under the effects of major societal challenges, it is indeed a stupendous achievement for South Africa to have put everything behind and dedicated itself to producing a marvellous festival- for the World Cup was never just about sport. When different nationalities and ethnicities come together, the tension in the air is palpable- but there is also a spark of excitement, the desire to pummel barriers down and celebrate sport, talent and youth. Afrikaans met English, Shakira gyrated in a Johannesburg stadium, vuvuzelas (and sockzelas) made a smashing (and not easily forgettable) appearance. South Africa has been lauded unanimously for a spectacular event, and rightly so.

While African football didn’t scale great heights, it did have a thumping presence in the tournament- positive signs for a continent that is more often than not remembered for rebellion and disease. South Africa’s success at hosting the tournament should also provide a ray of optimism to its neighbours, struggling to overcome their own problems of politics and racial differences.

Hosting a major sporting event is not the antidote to all political and social troubles. It does, however, create a multitude of opportunities to be capitalised on and generate interest and business. It involves massive expenditure, but if rightly built upon, can be a source of enough positive publicity to attract investment and foreign business. With the world watching, the last layers of diffidence and hesitation are peeled off, and a sparklingly confident front (cleverly concealing the hiccups) reveals itself.

As India comes close to its own sporting extravaganza, the Commonwealth Games, albeit on a much smaller scale, there is a lot it can learn from China, hosts of the 2008 Olympics, and South Africa. Budgets inevitably inflate themselves and spending goes well over the estimates; this, however, need not put paid to our hopes of a successful event. Building on it in the long run is essential- a one-off event which ends up in a large number of arenas that nobody has any use for later is an unforgivable drain on a developing country’s economy. The Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, for instance, hasn’t been put to any great use since the Olympics in 2008- a circumstance that had rather be avoided.

That said, hosting events which provide global exposure gives a fillip to countries that are usually better known not for all the right reasons. South Africa has done itself proud, and Brazil will hopefully carry the mantle on in 2014 as the new powers assert themselves.

The Fifth Season

This must be a rewarding month for bookmakers.

June has always been an exhausting yet deeply blissful month for sport-lovers. Weekends are looked forward to with fervent ardour, adrenaline flows as abundantly as beer and battles for TV viewership are temporarily suspended (how can a sports fanatic not get his/her way?). I remember when Sundays in particular used to be punishingly hectic due to uncooperative cable operators, numerous phone calls and personal visits being made to them to take DD Sports (which, invariably, would be telecasting archives of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics) off air to put Star Sports on for the F1 race. The amount of sporting action was obfuscating- I remember one particular Sunday when motor sports clashed with hockey clashed with cricket clashed with tennis…Super Sunday the news channels called it, and rightly so.

On such tantalising days, spoilt for choice, you grip the remote tightly, caring naught for the beads of sweat on your palm and for bodily needs. If you get up for a snack or to answer a telephone call, you just might miss that historic moment that you would want to talk to your colleagues and later, your grandchildren, about. To rub it in when an equally passionate sports lover has missed it. Think, for instance, of all the people who were at the court to catch a glimpse of the incredible marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut- what a wonderful fireplace story. And this June, things are as busy as ever- Star Cricket is forced to telecast Wimbledon matches, so you get the picture.

The FIFA World Cup, as it does every four years, has won itself new supporters. Hitherto unknown names roll off alien tongues with astonishing adroitness, out-of-work presenters turn into expert columnists on the ‘hot’ quotient and partying habits of the players, drawing rooms that earlier erupted with the melodramatic shrieks of chiffon-saree-backless-blouse-clad soap opera actresses now warm to the infinitely preferable monotonous drone of the vuvuzela.

The ’consequences’ of the World Cup, of course, haven’t been entirely favourable as seen by a certain section of people. The French President reportedly chose to abandon meetings with certain non-profit groups in favour of an emergency discussion to tackle the most predominant ‘social’ issue- the lacklustre performance of the Les Bleus at the tournament- and didn‘t win himself too many supporters through this move. He sought a meeting with Thierry Henry as soon as he returned home- a good indication of how sports can often be as large as life and political egos.

It isn’t just at the higher levels, though. Us small fry are equally enraptured by the idea of sport. Picture an office area with a solitary speaker-phone, where a voice from the client’s end drones on in injured ignorance about trivial matters, when more pressing affairs beckon- four laptops sit adjacent to one another, streaming feeds from the two World Cup matches that are taking place simultaneously, Wimbledon, and the finals of the Asia Cup- of course people choose to crowd around them, punching arms and thumping fists, rather than indulge the unreasonable fancies of a person continents away. Justifiable. Isn’t this your perfect idea of an ideal workday? Gone are the days when you had to call home and find out from a disinterested mother or wife, who didn’t even know where the sports channels were, the latest score updates. Technology is in.

Interestingly, even in a cricket-parochial country like ours, the euphoria of the football World Cup has drowned out- albeit temporarily, as I‘m guessing- the cricket madness. The Asia Cup was only followed on the sidelines, when people had time to spare after having exhausted their overnight-earned football knowledge in heated discussions. Wimbledon seems to be faring slightly better, thanks to the publicity the Isner-Mahut match that lasted longer than eleven hours has generated. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the perennial favourites, have also toiled to victory in five-setters, in a sense narrowing down the gap between themselves and the also-rans. Adding an element of interest was the departure of the French Open finalists in the first round of the ladies’ singles.

Also squeezed in last weekend was the US Open golf tournament, won by Graeme Dowell of Northern Ireland, making him the first European to win the tournament in forty years. Just another piece of worthless statistics if you’re a sports cynic, and a bit of news to gasp over if you’re one of the more sensible people inhabiting this planet. Golf isn’t just Tiger Woods- not anymore.

And in case you have some time to spare this weekend (discounting the mouth-watering England-Germany match-up), set it apart for the European Grand Prix taking place at Valencia, particularly if you’ve been watching with closely scrunched eyebrows the diminishing disparity between McLaren and Red Bull.

If you’re trying to escape the sporting madness of the season, sorry, you’re in the wrong year. If Shakira’s gyrating moves and the goal-scoring celebrations of the Wavin’ Flag song turn you off, please find yourself a new hobby.

If you are a bookmaker, go have a field day. For the rest of us, beer, popcorn and a good couch are always an option- I beg your pardon, THE option.

 

Forca, Football!

Scoring a jaw-dropping two points out of twenty in the preliminary round of a football quiz made me aware, for the umpteenth time, of my painful lack of knowledge of the game. I might have heard the lyrics of ‘Waving Flag’ sung and re-sung and distorted to glory, groaned over the inevitable ubiquitous use of ‘Waka Waka’ in the newspapers, but I soon realised what I didn’t know was central to the theme of the quiz- in short, trivia about the game. Intelligent guesses and wild shots in the dark are always thrilling when the answers turn out right, but sometimes, when confronted by people who know their stuff inside out, ignorance isn’t quite bliss.

The sulking skies opened up just before the quiz competition was due to start, and my teammate Airborne and I were hoping for a slice of extraordinarily good luck- the kind that led India into the 1950 World Cup finals, instead. It is another matter that they didn’t play because they weren’t allowed on the ground barefoot, as one version of the story goes. We were spared major embarrassment, of course, as people trickled in to increase the amount of competition (presumptuous of us to consider ourselves part of it, even so)- the quizmaster wanted atleast six teams to make a decent match of it, and his fears were unfounded. A decent number of people braved the rain to turn up at the prelims, and but for a bit of sparring, Airborne and I might have reached the royal score of four, halfway to the cut-off. Six teams made it to the final round, and no, we didn’t rue any lost opportunities.

As the questions flew around, we were treated to an intriguing collection of trivia scooped out of the massive amount of history the World Cup has accumulated over the years. Humour, controversy, corruption, and the crowning glory of triumph- football has seen it all.

Sport is no exception to the curses of human arrogance and senselessness. The brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the ostracism of the Jews at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are some of the more famous examples of politics sullying the reputation of global sporting events. Evidently, football has had its share of controversies- the inaugural edition of the World Cup at Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1930, featured only four European teams, a surprisingly low number for a continent that is home to some of the powerhouses of the sport. Defending champions Uruguay sought to retaliate by boycotting the 1934 championship in Italy, another controversial tournament where the hosts themselves had to qualify to play.

This is just a sample of the trivia that we were treated to. There were references to bizarre incidents, such as the one about a dog running on to the field to be caught by England’s Jimmy Greaves, who in turn had his lap graciously soiled, at the 1966 World Cup- yet another example of nature triumphing over man.

The magnitude of football’s reach is incredible. Its being a sport that can be played on the streets with a battered ball and goalposts traced out with a piece of chalk on a wall greatly helps matters. India may not have latched on to the idea of football asWe may be a long way off from having a football team to cry ourselves hoarse for. At a particular World Cup hockey tournament while India was still under British rule, the Indian team is reported to have sung ‘Meri Bhains Ko Danda Kyun Maara’, a folk song, to avoid singing God Save The Queen- Indian spirit, drawn straight from the rural heartlands. Maybe it won’t be too long before we have our own football anthems (and no, we’re certainly not taking the services of a certain bejewelled music director, thank you very much), and a football team that will give us someone to burden with our hopes and expectations (isn’t this what we do best?).

We returned from the quiz with our curiosity whetted- it was the perfect curtain-raiser to the approaching weeks of unbridled sporting passion, raw and real. The 2010 World Cup kicks off tomorrow, and here’s to the thirty-two teams that made it- the major hopes and the underdogs, the rookies and the players who will fight painstakingly to reach that one epoch before the swansong- this is one festival the world will feast on, undivided in spirit, for one magnificent month.

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