Saturday, 22 January, 2022
HomeNational InterestDhoni should know cricket is just a sport, not war

Dhoni should know cricket is just a sport, not war

Dhoni shouldn’t take his regiment to the pitch. Sportsmen bring glory for their nations by playing to win, not as ambassadors for their militaries.

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We cannot question the truism that while politics divides, sport unites. Even more so in the season of the ICC World Cup, which India has won twice in the past.

There is a qualification to this: It unites, but only the partisan. We as Indians are united behind our team, as are others behind theirs. That’s what brings us to the controversy over Mahendra Singh Dhoni sporting on his big wicket-keeping gloves the ‘Balidaan’ (supreme sacrifice) dagger insignia of the Indian Army’s formidable special forces.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), which oversees the game, has objected to this. Under the rules of the ICC, as of any other significant international sports body, there are limitations on religious, national or commercial symbols or logos a player can display on his body or livery.

The logos, for example, are of sponsors, whose deals are approved by the ICC and the respective nation’s associations. The permitted national symbols can be worn. Anything customised is a no-no. Anything military is definitely out. It is a field of sport, not military combat.

The BCCI says it has appealed to the ICC to let him be. Popular opinion is behind Dhoni’s gloves. Think about it: Team India in the World Cup, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and our valiant special forces, who not so long ago carried out the post-Uri surgical strikes, immortalised somewhat more colourfully more recently by that Vicky Kaushal movie. Which Indian would argue on the other side of this irresistible triple-magnet of nationalism?

But someone must do so, and say the ICC is right. Dhoni should remove the insignia. A field of sport, competitive enough, should have no place for what symbolises killing or getting killed. That’s why some of us must dare to swim against the tide, particularly those of us who love the sport and also want India to win. If our sporting nationalism will be questioned, so be it. It might be comforting to borrow the old line from Jesus Christ: Father, forgive them, for they (those accusing us of being unpatriotic) do not know what they are doing.

Let us first list the arguments from the ‘nationalists’ and their trumpeters in the commando-comic channels already running nutty hash-tags like #DhoniKeepTheGloves. First, that we must respect the armed forces. Second, that India is being bled by the Pakistanis so a statement must be made wherever they’re present. And third, you cannot deny an individual his choice, especially because Dhoni is an honorary Lt Colonel with the special forces and has earned his ‘dagger and wings’ after making the parachute jumps to qualify. You can’t deny him his regimental insignia.


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The third is answered easily: His regiment isn’t playing cricket for India. And when the regiment fights the bad guys for India, its troops do not wear the BCCI’s crest, or that of Hockey India or the Indian Olympic Association, although all of them represent the pride and glory of India.

That we must respect the armed forces and their sacrifices, is accepted. But what follows, that this statement, as also the protest against what the Pakistanis are doing in Kashmir, should be made by our cricketers in Lord’s, Old Trafford or the Oval and so on, is nonsense. Protests are made by politicians and diplomats, wars are fought by soldiers. Sportsmen bring glory for their nations by playing to win, not by becoming brand ambassadors for their militaries while wearing their sporting uniform.

Because it is a game two can play. If an Indian turns out in his Army’s colours, so can — or will — the Pakistanis. A game of cricket which only one of them can win will take the hues of a military contest. The spirit will immediately travel to the crowds, which are guaranteed to be predominantly Indian and Pakistani. This will turn sport into enmity, reminiscent of the bitter contests between warring Iran and Iraq in a distant past.

“At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare,” wrote George Orwell in his prescient 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit. He went on to say that the “significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: And, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies…” Our sportsmen and women have contested against Pakistan, lately with much greater success than in the past, while displaying an unforgiving, “take-no-prisoners” fighting spirit, but only in the game. During and after the game, the two teams have been friendly and sporting, even humouring each others’ families and children.

At this juncture, fortunately, there isn’t a war actually on — Balakot was a tiny skirmish that cost no lives and happened almost three months ago. In 1971, while a full-fledged war was being fought, Sunil Gavaskar and Zaheer Abbas played together as members of the ‘Rest of the World’ team touring Australia. This, when the IAF was routinely carrying out bombing runs over Karachi.

Again, in 1999, the two teams played in the World Cup in England on the day (night in India) of the fiercest fighting in Kargil. Hands were shaken, anybody who tripped and fell was helped along, as with tying the shoe-laces of rival batsmen. You didn’t want either side bringing in Tiger Hill there.


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Military symbols, uniforms with their lanyards and epaulettes, medals, strings and finery, bands, marches and style are all heady. They also come loaded with baggage where success or failure could look like victory or defeat in a war. In any game of sport — including the India-Pakistan league match on 16 June in Manchester — one side will win, but the other will lose. Will it be then like your army lost that battle? And what if both sides brought their ‘armies’ on their sleeves into Old Trafford? The British will run short of police to be able to manage the crowds then.

At which point, we return to Orwell. “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield,” he wrote and used the example of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was both right and wrong.

Human civilisation has moved way forward since the World Wars and the Cold War. Frequent sporting contact has become an antidote for toxic old enmities. It allows players, their fans, their families and friends to learn more about each other, build people-to-people linkages, sometimes even help vent their frustrations with each other through sport.

I do appreciate that today this view is neither wildly popular nor so politically correct. But, from Olympics to ping-pong, from basketball to cricket, from football to hockey, brutally competitive sport has helped smoothen the edges of militarised hostilities, helped heal scars on our minds.

We certainly appreciate an individual’s special devotion to the Army, particularly as he also exhibits that by serving with it honorarily. Dhoni, for example, went to accept his Padma award in his full special forces’ regalia, including the maroon beret. It was a perfectly good gesture. The Rashtrapati is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Dhoni doesn’t have to take his regiment to the pitch. He will never be short of killer instinct behind the stumps. He could still feel the inspiration of that ‘dagger’ in his palms each time he catches a batsman out of his crease. Insignias or not, Dhoni’s will remain the deadliest pair of gloves behind the stumps.


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38 COMMENTS

  1. PM Modi can collect votes using Armed Forces, but Modi should not use Army insignia. Strange! Media has not shown the guts to take on Modi

  2. MSD knows his job very well, infact better than media. He stopped using that logo. That’s the end of the story. Now you should delete this stpid post.

  3. I think everyone including Shekhar is missing the point: the question to ask is: how many crores was Dhoni paid to put the symbol on the glove? And by whom? Remember that our famous cricketers don’t move a finger without being paid.

  4. With you. But in this season of Jingoism who will like it. None. Even in wars of 1948 65 and 71 and later Katgil players have remained close friends ever. But things have changed and are changing. You know why. Sports should be kept far far away from politics. But who will listen ? “Awwazon ke is jungle mein khamoshi pehchane kaun “

  5. I endorse 100% the views expressed in this article by Mr. Gupta. We need to keep overly emotional nationalism in check and play sports in right spirit. I guess media is happy to play along with any controversy and give it a nationalistic narrative to get viewership and players the fan following (hence more ad opportunities) …

  6. Those supporting the wearing of memorabilia should have no problem if a foreign player sports bandana saying “X (name of Indian leader) killed Y people of Z religion” where X, Y and Z are variables.

  7. Lt. Col. Dhoni will not bring disrespute and an unwanted controversy to his Army. He will act like a true soldier in the next match and will remove the insignia

  8. A lot of vitriol being spewed against a very rational presentation. We need to distinguish between patriotism and ultra-nationalism.

    • Agreed. And who better to judge the difference between “patriotism and ultra nationalism” than shekhar Gupta.
      Dhoni ( and even the Indian team) should going forward seek wise counsel from such men on how to behave properly.

    • Seems you are still mad at Akshay Kumar for doing that non political interview. Burnol has run out of stock these days but you can apply ice.

  9. What a load of tosh.
    Shekhar Gupta you are better off pulling out your old articles on everything under the sun — like you have been doing of late — to show what a great political pundit you you are.

    To compensate for completing missing the nation’s mood in the recent elections.

    Meantime after you are done with lighting candles at Wagah, you and your Paki friends can play tennis ball cricket in the no- mans land.

  10. I’m not a fan of MS Dhoni. But, his gloves with Balidan symbol makes me proud on him and The Print, oh please either do a fair journalism or stop to make foolish to the people of India.

  11. I feel, where Mr. Gupta has gone wrong in writing this article is by assuming that the insignia is a sign of protest against Pakistan. I don’t think that’s the case – it’s a simple act of paying tribute to the forces of which M.S. Dhoni is a part. However, I am not surprised to see this article.

  12. I differ with the title and really want to punch you questioning the unknown nationalism gusture. Mr. (Syno pseudo) everybody is sane enough what supposed to do on field. Even mahi also not stubborn about it. Talking about your intellectual thought do u think such issue raised in any bitaletal series. And does this issue raise if match played in India it is just inane ICC scumbbed to hardliner Pakistani deeds as lot of things already going between BCCI, PCB and ICC. The Print ( yuk media) print something senseful

  13. Sir, sports is a bloodless war with added flavour of pleasure.
    If sports is not a war then why this type of awkward discipline?
    If regiment cannot be drag into field then why countries, hoisting of flag etc.
    Why somebody is so allergical to patriotism ,not proud of his country, army, culture.why their history starts from 1000AD.

  14. Completely agree. While sportspersons like Dhoni are no doubt excellent cricketers, they carry the machismo a little too far.

    Wearing army insignia on gloves is absolutely meaningless. And even stupid on part of the BCCI to request the ICC to let it be worn. Probably because the BCCI contributes so much money to the ICC they may even get their way. But bottomline is it should not be worn.

    If Dhoni has any sense he will humbly comply with the ICC.

    • “If dhoni has any sense??”
      You do remember he is a world cup winning captain. Probably he has more sense than you and your entire lineage combined.
      Also, You sound almost exactly like those who were shouting on the day of election result that all those who voted for bjp are mad senseless foolish people.
      One can only have sympathy for your intellect.

  15. Very well written…… The least we can do is to keep politics away from sports…… Would the whole issue be seen in the same way if Pakistani played had done such a thing ?

    • No, actually if a Pakistani would have done something similar it would have been his “freedom of speech and expression”.
      But you see these rights are not given to those who show support for Indian army.

  16. You are one of the filthiest in media. I wonder why hike is allowing Ur news in his app. You do not even know the real reason behind he is wearing that. And you call yourself media . Hahaha
    N now I pity you

  17. What about Pakistan players saying the name of Allah in post match presentations. Why don’t you talk about that you fool?

  18. What about Pakistan players saying the name of Allah in post match presentations. Why don’t you talk about that you fool?

  19. What about Pakistan players saying the name Allah in post match presentations? Don’t you talk about that you fool.

  20. Only in India do anti-nationals advice Patriots what’s appropriate! NO MORE DO WE CARE WHAT ANTI-NATIONALS (Those who hold a foreign religion or philosophy above the nation) THINK!

  21. Before teaching others learn & adopt thier pride and commitment to the country! Only a patriot can teach another patriot what’s war and what’s not!

  22. Very same writing. Also special compliment for writing this piece going against the tide, when nationalism on high for a mere insignia on globe. Personally , Dhoni’s stature has gone down in my eyes. I always respected him as a dignity to sports. He made himself smaller.

    • Dhoni has accepted to not wear that gloves after reading your comment, that his stature has reduced in your so important opinion.

  23. ICC rules say: no religious symbols as well.
    Tell me shekhar ji then?
    Should moeen Ali, Hashim amla and imran Tahir made to shave their beards as well?
    Or do we ask Sikh players to remove their turban and play.
    Pakistan objected to Indian team wearing camouflage caps after Pulwama, and who better to do their bidding here than you? By writing an article and falling right into the trap of sports unite.
    I wonder how you reached editorial positions with such pathetic mindset. You truly are sir a blot on the nation.
    And please excuse us from your commentary on cricket of which you have neither experience nor passion and nor much knowledge of. Don’t ruin the world cup.

    Remember that you were rooting for modi to loose prior to elections. Analyse were you went wrong. The level of nationalism in the country has far exceeded that in you and others of your like. The sooner you come to terms with it the saner your predictions and opinions will become.

  24. Absolutely correct. Also it is NOT his regiment. Attending a few weeks training course (as a VIP), does not a commando make.

    • If it wasn’t it would be the regiment protesting against the misuse of their insignia, not the Pakistanis via ICC.

    • Have you seen him training? Have you seen his jumps? Do you know what living in the jawan’s lines mean?
      It takes balls of steel to jump from an aircraft like the para commandoes… Its not your fun-paragliding where someone is bilding you from top. When you do a route march of 30 km with 25 kg load on your back, then you will come to know.
      So please dont open your gob when you dont know any thing about military training.
      As if you were there to see what VIP treatment he was given!!

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