Category Archives: sports

Cricket the vampire

Cricket the vampire

Forget about the cricket scam! If the Indian government would legalise betting, not only might it lessen scams, but the state would also reap huge profits. Most of the black money, cheating, smuggling, etc, happening in India is triggered by obsolete laws enacted by Nehru, which were meant to tax the rich to benefit the poor, but which in the end made the rich richer (with black money) and the poor poorer (with white money).

If only this present government would understand that it has huge popular support to make changes — forget what the secular press says — it could take bold decisions in liberalising, privatising and above all trusting the people of India. This would help the country make giant strides forward.

The government should also press forward in cuts of subsidies, also a legacy of Nehru. The present drought, for instance, is partly a result of water mismanagement, such as the farmers pumping for 24 hours without a thought for the water table, because water and electricity are free. Of course, the NDA’s allies will scream, for demagogic purposes, but they should understand that the BJP government will be in power for decades to come — with or without them. It may be because India’s time has come; or it could very well be that India’s time has come because the BJP government is in power.

But to come back to cricket, think of it thus: here is a game which is a colonial legacy of the British. It is meant to be played in cool weather on green meadows with a few spectators who shout “jolly good” from time to time, while sipping lemonade. It is not a game for a tropical country, where you have to stand for hours under a blistering sun in trousers, while frenzied fans scream their approval — or displeasure.

It is true that cricket has its beauty and that it can become engrossing once you have penetrated its subtleties. But it has become an obsession in India and has created a nation of overweight “armchair” sportsmen, who think only about cricket while neglecting their own body. Above all, cricket has totally vampirised all other sports.

There is so much (black) money in cricket that sponsors, TV networks and even the government have concentrated only on that game. The truth is that India is nowhere internationally in sport and its standard is pathetic, if not downright ridiculous, in all games, except for two more British legacies: tennis and hockey.

But look at China which in a span of 30 years has become a sports superpower in all disciplines, including nontraditional ones like swimming. Why can’t India, which gave to the world hata-yoga, which has been copied all over the West, or even pranayama, which is now spreading like wildfire, thanks to the Bangalore-based Art of Living, have a coherent and comprehensive programme which would build world-class athletes in two decades? Because of cricket!

The Indian government should restrict the number of international matches played by its cricketers both within and outside India. This will ensure automatically that cricketers get less sponsorship and have to concentrate on home turf.

The government should also evolve a bold and clear plan for developing all sports, trying as much as possible to bypass bureaucracy who stifle and kill all good plans (it would maybe make sense to privatise some of the areas such as training).

Then only will India become a sports superpower. It has the manpower, it has talent, it has brains; it could even apply its ancient knowledge of hata-yoga and pranayama to training and produce supermen, who would not use anabolics like the Chinese are rumoured to do.

P.S: A reporter from Outlook was asking `apropos’ the controversy of the Indian president’s visit to France: “How is it that the French press behaved in such a disrespectful way during his visit, when there is such a strong tradition of French academic interest in India — people like Christophe Jaffrelot or Sanjay Subrahmanyam, for instance?” The answer is: the French press behaved in the way it did with the president because of people like Jaffrelot and Subrahmanyam.

These “India specialists” in France are continuously highlighting, in the articles they write for respected newspapers such as Le Monde or in history books on the subcontinent, untouchability in India, or how this country is still caste-ridden, or the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, or how the Muslims and Christians are persecuted in India … Very rarely do they bother to mention that this country has an unparalleled history of tolerance, having given — and still giving (to the Tibetans, for instance) — refuge to all persecuted minorities of the world; that it is the Hindus who actually have been at the receiving end of persecution for 10 centuries; or that India is a unique democracy in the world, given its difficult diversity, a rampart of pro-westernism and a bulwark against the Islamisation of Asia. It is thus strange that when Jaffrelot comes to India to release his Hindu Nationalism which has greatly contributed to India’s wrong image in France, he is feted by most of the Indian press.

Cricket, the Destroyer

Cricket, the Destroyer

February 09, 2003

Cricket fever has once more gripped India. This time for the World Cup. It is said nothing unites India more than cricket: youngsters can be seen practising on a makeshift pitch from the gullies of Srinagar to the fields of Tamil Nadu and during an India-Pakistan match, passions run high. It is even said ‘cricket diplomacy’ could help thaw the frost between New Delhi and Islamabad, as table tennis contributed in the seventies to break the ice between China and the US — yesterday’s enemies, today’s friends.

Yet, both India and Pakistan should consider this: cricket is a colonial game, a leftover of the British Empire. Cricket was played in the 19th century by rich, idle maharajas and upper class Indians, who wanted to look more British than the British and aped the English in whatever they did, whether it was hunting tigers, owning a Rolls Royce, or playing the ‘gentleman’s game.’

It was never a sport for the masses. It is a pity that after Independence, both the governments of India and Pakistan encouraged cricket. This South Asian obsession with cricket has had catastrophic consequences on the national psyche of these countries.

Cricket is a game meant to be played in British conditions. In cool weather on green English meadows, with a few spectators shouting ‘jolly good’ from time to time while sipping lemonade. It is not a sport for a tropical country, where players have to stand for hours under the blistering sun.

There is unfortunately a conspiracy between the Government of India and the big business corporations to inflate the importance of cricket because they make so much money out of it. The amount spent by multinationals and national companies, for instance, on the pre-publicity for the present cricket World Cup is nothing short of shameful in a country where basic necessities such as drinking water are badly lacking.

It should also be said that Doordarshan, a television channel that even today has not been able to put its act together, has to bear a greater part of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs. They are the ones who set-up the whole trend, cashed the dollars, while not caring to use the money to upgrade their performance.

It is equally disgraceful players, however talented they are, endorse any product, from soft drinks to cars, from electronics to foreign credit cards. As sportsmen of international standing, they should show some sense of balance in the choice of products they associate their image with. Crores of rupees are spent on artificial, tasteless ads for Coca-Cola and Pepsi that not only incarnate American imperialism but also lead to obesity and chemical imbalance in the body. If only the profits of multinationals would benefit poor Indians, but they mostly go in the pockets of American multinationals and a few rich Indians.

Cricket stifles all other sports. Because of the sponsorship and advertisement solely focused on cricket, much more deserving and physically harder sports, such as track and field are neglected and other athletes get very little sponsorship and media attention. As a direct result, India’s world position in sports, considering that there are a billion Indians, is abysmal and nothing short of disgraceful.

Instead of concentrating on cricket and hiring foreign coaches, the Indian government could do well to use India’s greatest gifts to the world: hata-yoga, pranayama and meditation for the development, stamina and concentration of its sportsmen. With a little rigour, discipline and training techniques borrowed from the West, India would quickly produce outstanding athletes of world caliber in all disciplines.

It is also high time that sports be taken off the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, who have shamelessly exploited it for selfish purposes and left it in the mire it is now.

But as usual, we see that even the present government, supposedly ‘Hindu,’ is more interested in aping the West, including cricket, at the expense of traditional Indian sports such a Kalaripayat, which gave birth to Kung-fu and Karate and is still widely practiced in the villages of Kerala.

At a time where millions of Westerners practice meditation, when multinationals have included pranayama and hata-yoga for relaxation seminars, when many Western sportsmen use pranayama and meditation for improving performance, it is ironic and tragic that these disciplines are not taught in Indian schools, except in the Art of Living-run schools and institutes.

If they were, India would quickly produce children who will not only be rooted in their own culture, but would naturally excel in sports. But, of course, if such a move was initiated in India’s education system, there would be an outcry from India’s secular Hindu intelligentsia and from the Christian and Muslim minority that sports and education were being saffronised.

Saffronised? Does breath have a religion? Is not meditating on one’s thoughts or watching one’s respiration, something that can be practiced by anybody — Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian? And would it not help in improving the performance of a Muslim cricketer, a Hindu high jumper, a Buddhist swimmer, or a Christian tennis woman?

Pranayama and meditation would certainly do South Asian cricketers (a few Indian cricketers have done the Art of Living basic course) a lot of good, because often many of them are spoilt brats, flying first class, staying in palaces and getting millions of rupees from endorsements.

If only Indian cricketers would win!

It is high time the Indian government enforces a limitation on the number of international cricket matches played abroad and starts focusing a little more on other sports. India lags 30 years behind China and 50 years behind the West in most sports.

Shame on you cricket, the destroyer.

Francois Gautier

Cricket: Creator & Destroyer

Cricket: Creator & Destroyer

March 23, 2004

Whenever I have gone to Pakistan to cover political happenings there, I have always been struck by the fact that a Pakistani Punjabi from Lahore strikingly resembles an Indian Punjabi from Delhi in his looks, mannerisms, habits — everything but religion. And does one wear one’s religion on one’s face?

Every time I had this experience, I remembered what Sri Aurobindo said it in 1947: ‘But the old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent division of the country. It is hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled.’

Today we see an intense aspiration amongst Indians — and maybe also in some lesser degree amongst Pakistanis — to let go of the tensions, to forget the four wars (if you count Kargil) that the two countries have bitterly fought, and avoid a fifth war, which could be nuclear.

Here comes cricket, the passion that unites both countries. Remember the so-called ping-pong diplomacy? For a long time the US regarded China as the Red Evil. The first contacts between the US and China in the late 1960s were initiated by an American table tennis team. After that relations went on a roll. The US is today the biggest investor in China. Can cricket play the same role in South Asia ?

There are two points of view, of course. The first one is that sports unites. When you are on a field, you tend to forget, at least after a while, the colour, nationality and religion of your opponent. Let the best win. Sports helps the unfreezing of confrontational relationships, as it is the case today between India and Pakistan. Viewed from that angle, politicians should never interfere in sports and should allow the innate instinct of man for games take the lead. Let natural bonds establish themselves. This has been the motive of the Frenchman De Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics.

There is another perspective which says that sports today has been intensely corrupted, whether it is the rough tackling in football, the doping of many athletes, or match fixing in cricket. We also see that sport is often used by politicians for their own self interest — witness India, where there is total interference from the world of politics in the realm of sports — or by sponsors and television who are only interested in making money out of athletes.

More than that, some critics say, sports has become so commercial that it does not reflect the reality of life anymore. Take cycling, for instance. The most prestigious cycling event is the Tour de France. But the different legs are so physically demanding; television viewers demand more and more drama that it is impossible to complete the gruelling month-long tour without doping oneself.

Thus, some people might oppose sports as a diplomatic tool. In the case of these India-Pakistan matches it could be argued that it changes nothing to the confrontational reality. While Mr Vajpayee repeatedly goes out of his way to stretch a hand of peace, in Lahore, Delhi or Agra, while Indian peace activists lead candlelight marches at the Wagah border, even while cricket matches are played, Islamic militants kill innocent people in Kashmir. The Pakistan government does not have the decency to delay by a few days the firing of its long-range missile, which can carry nuclear warheads to any part of India. Who knows, even a Kargil might be planned in Islamabad at this very moment.

As a Frenchman and as a lover of sports, cricket in India is also the destroyer. It attracts media attention and huge sponsorship money on a few privileged ones and leaves in the lurch thousands of more deserving sportsmen, such as long distance runners, swimmers, or football players, who toil much more to achieve results, barely get their travelling expenses paid and have to stay in dingy hotels when they are playing.

It also creates an entire nation of armchair sportsmen, who only exercise slouched on their sofas, a cola in one hand and a packet of chips in the other, while watching the India-Pakistan series. It becomes a tool in the hands of media savvy politicians: Are Sonia Gandhi’s children really interested in cricket, or do they think it will bring the Congress votes by going to Pakistan to support ‘our’ boys?

It is used shamelessly by newspapers to boost their sales; If you look, for instance, at an average Times of India front page, it proposes to its readers lots of cricket, quite a dose of sex, some scandals, Bollywood gossip and very little of politics. The Times of India thinks it is wooing the young and hep in this way, but in the long run, a national newspaper of this stature which offers nothing of substance is committing suicide.

Sports is finally not encouraged in Indian schools and colleges. Only cricket, a colonial legacy of the British meant more for cooler climates, is promoted. As a result, India, a nation of over a billion people, has a pathetic showing in athletics, swimming, football, basketball, you name it…

Look at China. When ping-pong diplomacy began in 1968, China was nowhere in other sport. But in less than 40 years, it became one of the world’s sports superpowers, having the best divers, a world class football team, the best women long distance runners, some of the fastest swimmers and top class basketballers. There is no way India can become the industrial and political superpower it rightly aspires to be unless it matches it by also becoming a Sports Great. But for this to happen, cricket will have to be put on the backburner, so that sponsors and the media take a little more interest in other deserving sports.

The best would be for the government to limit international cricket matches to four or five a year and encourage domestic cricket so that young poor Indian boys can come up.

This being said, we must give a chance to peace between India and Pakistan and if cricket is to be that instrument, so be it. Long live cricket the creator — and destroyer.

Francois Gautier

Lagaan vs Gadar

Francois Gautier


Inevitably, the two mega films just released — Lagaan and Gadar — are being compared. Both are big budgets movies, both are epics of a sort, both deal with traumatic events — the struggle against the British in Lagaan and Partition in Gadar, But are they of the same calibre? And above all, do they reflect the reality of history as it was enacted?

Lagaan starts with a moving scene: the hero (Aamir Khan) is trying to save a deer from being slaughtered by an ‘evil’ British officer (who looks more Indian than English and speaks a caricatured Hindi). Very touching, but the reality is somehow different: Wildlife in India is being slaughtered since Independence at such an alarming rate that soon there will be nothing left; some Bollywood actors are known to have a weakness to go on a hunting trip or two, witness the other Khans, Salman, and Saif Ali, who were caught killing innocent deer in Rajasthan.

Lagaan uses cricket as a metaphor: Indians can be better than the British at their own games; and cricket can be used as war, a sort of a Gandhian non-violent weapon. But both metaphors are untruthful.

Firstly, cricket is a game which is totally unsuited for Indian conditions, as it is meant to be performed in cool weather and on green meadows.

Secondly, cricket in colonial India was played only by maharajas and some of the upper classes who wanted to copy the British, certainly not by 19th century Kutch villagers.

And lastly, if the British had meant — in the same way that Macaulay created generations of Indians, who are brown in their skins but Western in their mind — to kill all other games in India, including indigenous ones, by imposing cricket (have you noticed that Indians are only good at games left by the colonisers: cricket, lawn tennis, hockey, polo…), they have been highly successful.

The adulatory, mad, irrational love for cricket that Indians possess has ensured that not only most Indians are merely armchair sportsmen, but that cricket has ‘vampirised’ all other sports in India, by attracting to itself all sponsorship and media interest. As a result, of the two ‘giants’ of Asia — China and India — the former is one of the top sporting nations in the world and the latter ranks at the bottom of most sports and won only one bronze medal in the last Olympics.

One should also add that cricket’s ‘fair play’, supposedly left by the British, is a hoax: Pakistan may want to play cricket with India but that did not stop Islamabad to send its infiltrators into Kargil, while pretending to be sporty. Some cricketers are spoilt brats making millions of rupees in endorsements, whereas more deserving sportsmen, such as runners, live on a pittance.

On top of that, in Lagaan, there is too much light on the actors’ faces, the Indian costumes are all wrong: women of 19th century Kutch did not wear blouses; Aamir Khan’s hair looks perpetually artfully undone, as if he is wearing a wig; there is also a lot of overacting. If the British were as stupid and caricatural as shown in the film, they certainly would not have been able to keep India — and a huge empire all over the world — for so long. There is no doubt that the English colonisers were devious and cruel — but they did it in a much cleverer way than depicted in Lagaan, by pitting Muslims against Hindus, Christians against Hindus, Sikhs against Hindus, Hindus against Hindus…

Yes, they did impoverish India: according to British records, one million Indians died of famine between 1800 and 1825, 4 million between 1825 and 1850, 5 million between 1850 and 1875 and 15 million between 1875 and 1900. Thus 25 million Indians died in 100 years! (Since Independence, there has been no such famines, a record of which India should be proud.)

But the famines did not happen because the British ‘overtaxed’ farmers, as hinted by Lagaan, it was done in a roundabout manner, by breaking down the indigenous crop patterns of India and substituting it with products which England needed, such as cotton. Finally, Lagaan strives to be very ‘secular’: Hindus and Muslims live harmoniously in this Kutch village (which looks more like a Taj hotel recreation of a khadi village than a real 19th century Gujarati hamlet), and it is the crippled Harijan, who indirectly helps the ‘Indian’ team beat the British. But again, does this correspond to the reality?

By contrast, Gadar is a wonderful film. The theme is real: the Partition of India which cost so much blood on both sides and has left wounds which are so deep, two or three generations later, that I could feel the anguish of my wife, whose Sikh father fled Rawalpindi hiding in a trunk in a train that barely made it to Delhi.

Gadar has an eye for detail; the costumes are right, the cars and trucks are vintage, the lighting is perfect. On top of that the acting is superb: for once, Sunny Deol does not over-perform in great outbursts of pseudo-violence, but is sober, restrained and can be both wonderfully touching and angry, portraying single-handedly the terrible anguish of Partition.

Amisha Patel renders beautifully the extraordinary Indian-ness of the Indian woman (the nuptial scene is both sensuous and leaves a lot to the imagination), and re-enacts the tearing apart that many Indian men and women, be them Muslims or Hindus, felt in themselves in 1947. Split between their religion and nationality, their attachment to India and the mirage that was Pakistan.

Finally, contrary to Lagaan, where you are treated with more than two hours of cricket of which the outcome is highly predictable, Gadar has an intricate scenario with twists and suspense and we leave it to the reader to discover this magnificent film for herself/himself.

Unfortunately, of the two films, there is no doubt that Lagaan (which is at the moment breaking all attendance records) will reap more popular success: it appeals more to ordinary sentiments, touches a certain jingoistic nerve in people and uses cricket the vampire to tap the masses. But the truth is that not only does the Indian team not beat England (nor even Zimbabwe!) very often, but that the British do not even need to beat India in cricket. By having imposed upon India cricket, a game not suited for Indian conditions, they won anyway!

They also won because they managed, better than Aurangzeb even, to divide India. By attacking cinema halls in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Lucknow, certain Muslims have shown, once more, that they are still resorting to the old tactics of the Mughals, regardless of the genuineness of the issue.

Gadar is a non-partisan film, as it treats the Hindu-Muslim problem in a non-judgmental way; and if the heroine does namaaz with her nail polish on, it is a very small matter, that does not warrant riots.

On July 14, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf will sit down in Agra and try to hammer down their differences — which have only one name: Kashmir. But they should remember Sri Aurobindo’s words in 1947: ‘The old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent division of the country. It is hoped that the nation will not accept the settled fact as for ever settled, or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible; possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. The Partition of the country must go…’

Unfortunately, since Independence, all Indian and Pakistan leaders have thought that Kashmir can be solved separately from the other problems. But the truth, as shown in Gadar, is that Kashmir, Ayodhya, Kargil, the unrest of the 120 million Muslims, all spring from that great gaping wound that is Partition, which the British wilfully and consciously left behind as a parting gift (remember the words of Churchill when he learnt of the chaos following Partition: ‘At last, we’ve had the last word’).

As long as Pakistanis and Indians do not become conscious of the need to reunite, in whatever form, under whichever framework, they will be other Ayodhyas or Kargils. Kashmir will remain a festering and dangerous wound in the face of South Asia.

Doping, truth and the media

August 01, 2006
One of the greatest realities today is that what appears as truth, is often untrue, or at best half true; and what people think as untrue, or not politically correct, is often much nearer to the truth than we think.

In the 21st century, more than anybody else, the media has become the magician of modern times, often making untruth appear as truth and truth appear as untruth.

Take, for instance, the recent cases of US sprinter Justin Gatlin and cyclist Floyd Landis, who have become, at the hands of the media, the villains of the day — the same media, both international and Indian, that for long eulogised them, carried them to the pinnacle of glory, making then of them modern day heroes.

The untruth goes like this. Landis and Gatlin are the great cheaters, they have taken performance-enhancing substances. They have disgraced the world of sport, they have broken the ethics of good sportsmanship. They will be thus banned, stripped of their titles and generally disgraced.

But look at it like this: It is not the Landis or the Gatlins who are responsible for doping, or the performance-enhancing substances that are taking over world sport more and more in nearly all disciplines, but the organisers, the sponsors, and particularly the television channels.

If you take the Tour de France, for instance, you will notice that every year it has become more and more difficult, with longer and longer and longer stages, more and more demanding mountain climbs.

Why? Because television channels want more and more sensational footage, more and more dramatic finishes, where players collapse at the rear end and where one single ‘hero’ sizzles up everybody and rides a lonely death to the finishing line.

In turn, the sponsors put more and more and more pressure on the organisers for the spectacular, the sensational, the dramatic. And the Tour de France is like a drug: the longer you’re on it, the more drugs you take to get a kick.

In the same way, the television viewer wants more and more action, more blood every year. It is like the old time gladiators in the Roman games where someone had to die.

Thus, Landis or Gatlin are only victims of the greed of television: they have to perform in harsher and harsher conditions, their bodies are submitted to more and more demanding stress. And they are not supermen, however much they practice and however much they build their bodies.

How far more can the world record for the 100 metres go down to? Scientists already feel that the present 9.77 seconds is the fastest that a human body can run. But don’t worry it will still go down and be broken again and again: sponsorship, spectacle and viewer interest demand it.

And another Gatlin will find another performance enhancing drug, which has not yet been traced. And then he will get caught and disgraced.

But the ultimate irony is that the first to condemn Gatlin or Landis are the organisers, the sponsors, and the media, those who made millions out of them. Because make no mistake, the billion of dollars earned in the Olympic games or in Le Tour de France by the organisers and the televisions channels are made on the sweat and blood of not only the Landis’ and Gatlins, but also of the thousands of faceless athletes who struggle, come last and about whom nobody speaks.

Yet they are very much part of the spectacle, which could not happen without them, as there can be no winners without worthy losers.

Oh, what hypocrites, these sponsors, television and organisers are. It is they who should be condemned by the media, these armchair athletes, these vampires of others’ efforts, who have never trained for hundred of hours, sweating their guts day after day, known the pain of losing, the loneliness of hotel rooms after a difficult day, the struggle of being a small time athlete, struggling to make ends meet when one has not yet reached glory and fame.

And what is doping after all? It is the logical continuation of the ‘natural’ medication the team doctor starts giving to a runner, a cyclist or a footballer: vitamins, proteins, or tonics. Slowly under pressure to perform more and more, faster and faster, with more and more competition at hand, the athlete turns to aspirin when he has an ache here and there, and eventually to some amphetamine.

From there, there is no turning back. Don’t blame him, blame the demands made on his body by the rapacious sponsors and media barons.

It is all about money, brothers and sisters, not sport. Nevertheless, even in the midst of this untruth, of this race for sensationalism, blood and death, sport triumphs. There is always that magical moment when the tennis player forgets about the millions of dollars he or she is going to make — or lose — the performance enhancers he may or may not have taken and surpasses himself, or herself, a moment of pure sporting miracle. This is what we should remember.

Nobody can take away from Gatlin the fact that he ran the 100 metres in 9.77 seconds, or from Landis that he won the Tour de France with only one hip. Testosterone or no testosterone. If you are not talented, you can take any amounts of testosterone, it will not make you into a Gatlin, a Landis, or even a Ben Johnson.

The media is so unfair. It’s all about untruth taking the appearance of truth. And what is valid for sports is even more valid for the world of politics. But that is another story.

Francois Gautier, who usually contributes columns to our news pages, plays basketball and tennis and jogs.