As live sporting action continues to be a distant dream, athletes are turning to social media as a way to engage with their fans. A respite from their busy event calendars and busier training regimens has given them a rare chance to indulge a bit. For sports fans, an opportunity to see Rafa Nadal struggling to start an Instagram live as Roger Federer and Andy Murray poke fun at the clueless Spaniard is akin to watching the Avengers in one of their candid moments. Needless to say, most of us are happily lapping up this unprecedented access.
However, certain sections haven’t taken kindly to some of the stuff out there. Ravindra Jadeja wielding his sword in a video he posted last week was one such example. While it’s a routine Jadeja has done several times with a cricket bat, this was the first time we got to see him do it with an actual sword.
Now, you may have good reasons to like or dislike the display of an armed martial art, and either way, you should be entitled to your views on the subject, but that’s not the point here.
Political incorrectness is a part of sporting culture
Some perceived Jadeja’s display of mastery over his sword and the accompanying hashtag on his tweet as a blatant and distasteful display of his caste-based identity. To put it lightly, it’s a gross overreaction. But when a matter as inconsequential as K.L. Rahul and Hardik Pandya talking about their private lives on a chat show can go to the Supreme Court of India, one should tread carefully at calling anything an overreaction.
Speaking of Pandya and Rahul, Yuvraj Singh recently said in an Instagram chat with Rohit Sharma that back in his day, the seniors wouldn’t allow Pandya and Rahul to do the sort of thing they did. One would have thought the free-spirited Yuvraj would have more sympathy for what Pandya and Rahul had to go through. Mind you, one of Yuvraj’s seniors was Rahul Dravid, who asked us not to overreact on the Pandya-Rahul issue, and added: “It can’t be everything was great earlier, and everything is bad today.” But then again, that’s not the point.
Expecting athletes to be politically correct is inherently flawed and shows a lack of understanding of the global sporting culture. When Muhammad Ali is celebrated for expressing his political views and asserting his religious identity, how can it be wrong when someone like Jadeja does something similar? And if you want to pick up on the words of young Indian cricketers, you should first hear the stories of Michael Jordan running down his opponents with the choicest of words. Jordan’s trash talks are as popular in NBA circles as his slam dunks.
Although disrespecting your opponent isn’t something I am personally fond of, and it’s banned categorically according to the codes of conduct adopted by several boards, including the BCCI, discretion with words will never be the territory of athletes.
Wearing your identity on your sleeve
Singling out Jadeja for wearing his identity on his sleeve is a slippery slope. English cricketers are still labelled as knights, OBE and CBEs by the queen: A gesture with strong colonial overtones that will be frowned upon by many. Hashim Amla refuses to wear a sponsor logo based on his religious beliefs.
Coaches have, in the past, called upon religious or cultural identities to motivate individuals and bring together teams. One of the greatest coaches of the game, Bob Woolmer, did this twice. While talking about Woolmer’s exploits with the Pakistan national team, Osman Samiuddin wrote: “Bob Woolmer, the current coach, is, of course, no Muslim but he is supportive of religion’s adhesive power: He should know, having overseen the rise, in the 1990s, of a South African team with a devoutly Christian core.”
Should we say Woolmer was wrong in using religion as a driving force for the teams he coached? Haven’t religious minorities been persecuted in the past in both Pakistan and South Africa?
Athletes like Jadeja are a proud lot, and invoking an identity gives them belief when they step on the field and face the pressure of expectations of millions of fans. It’s no coincidence that a regiment in the Indian military is still called ‘Rajputana Rifles’.
Pride, not privilege
If you know the story of Jadeja’s growth, then a privilege of high birth is the last thing you would associate with him. Born as the son of a security guard, living in a one-room flat with parents and two sisters, Jadeja honed his fielding skills by diving on the barren grounds of Jamnagar in 50-degree heat.
Jadeja was shattered at the loss of his mother as a teenager in a kitchen accident. But driven by his mother’s dream of watching her son play for India, Jadeja continued to do the hard yards and eventually earned his India colours. The rest, as they say, is history.
Players like Jadeja and Pandya have fought tremendous odds to reach where they are today. Why waste time picking on their personal choices when you can tell the story of their rise to the top to inspire millions?
If you are looking to pick something that goes against the culture of the sport, then call out the sections of media that call a game between India and Pakistan as “war without weapons” or bring in “baap-beta” (father-son) comparisons. That’s not just distasteful; it’s downright dangerous.
Jadeja’s sword or his horse-riding is just a harmless indulgence. Watch if it fits your taste, or ignore it if it doesn’t. Social media tempts you to outrage over frivolities, don’t give in.
Rajesh Tiwary tweets @cricBC and is known for his blend of cricket insights and irreverent humour. A self-confessed cricket geek, he prides himself in remembering every frame of grainy Television cricket coverage of the ’90s.
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