Our Cup of Woes

N. Arunkumar *

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa will be remembered for more reasons than one. The flamboyance of the Latin American football religion has come to a grinding halt already with the tournament favourites like Brazil and Argentina sent packing home in the quarters itself. This result is definitely disappointing to the legions of worldwide fans of these football nations, who evoke pretty emotional responses with their tricks on the field.

Some even feel that the finals will not be anything like it would have been without the Latinos in the fray. Brazil, which boasted of a bunch of internationally talented and expensive players were clearly stunned by the Netherlands, who one might argue did not play all that brilliantly to compel the five time world cup winners to pack their bags, on that match day.

The equalizer and the consequent header by Sneijder into the Brazilian net were more or less flukes and not due to any brilliant strategy perhaps. At times this is a game for the opportunists to kick it in. The Brazilians had dominated the proceedings in that match and looked like they would most certainly do the winning lap. However, the outcome was stunning, not only for Brazil, but for all those who had betted that they would walk away with the coveted cup after all.

Maybe that is the price we pay for complacency in making 'a priori' judgements as to who will be the winner in a competition that draws the best and only the best sportsmen who can kick the about 425 gms ball with inventive nimbleness. And, add to that the refereeing blunders in this edition of the cup, and it becomes unforgettable for more reasons than one.

But, at the end of the game, it was disheartening to see Dunga look lost and dejected with the unbelievable result before him. It must have taken a long time for the reality to set in on him and wake him up to the fact that their campaign to regain the most coveted football prize had bitten dust. He was not alone in his predicament of course, since even the fans of Brazil here in Manipur looked at each other in disbelief. The world cup had lost most of its charm right then, and with the humiliation that a star like Maradona had to face with the drubbing Argentina faced at the feet of Germany has certainly brought the curtains down on the magnetism of this world cup for us here.

It is most certainly going to be an all European clash to carry the cup away to their shores. We will have to now wait for another four years to see the kick off again with our favourite teams back. It is highly unlikely that Maradona will be the coach of Argentina or even Dunga of Brazil then. These are stars to which we owe a lot as football lovers, since they gave us some of the most enduring moments in the arena of world football, during their playing days.

Maradona, a much maligned though decorated football genius had to face so many setbacks in his life that he has had a chequered career to say the least. We must also remember that he had come back from the brink of death to coach this Argentinian team and bring them within touching distance of taking the crown. Yet, it is a story of 'so near yet so far' for this genius. He is a simple man, often accused of being blunt with his critics.

It has to be like that with him after all, as he is a person who speaks his heart and his mouth is in synchronization with it. He has no histrionics to dictate his disposition. He is one package, and take it or leave it, it is immaterial. Maradona will forever remain one of the most colourful football players of all time and unparalleled.

Pele and Maradona cannot be compared to each other in the same index, as both of them played their games in diverse era's altogether. The game had changed and is still evolving today as each decade goes by. And, both of them were players in different periods completely that cannot be compared on a linear yardstick. We yet have to see anyone like them in contemporary football though there are equally brilliant stars like Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kaka spearheading their respective country's claims to world domination in football. Each of them is not in the same saddle as these two legends of the game, whose antics will be treasured in the football museums of the world forever.

Now, the question in all our minds is, when will India also proclaim its arrival on a sporting stage that contains such ruthless spirit of domination? It is a dream, which will not materialize in our lifetimes most probably, given the politicization of sports in the country. Wherever politicians are allowed to interfere in sports activities it will end up as a messy business with hardly any innovative decisions, which will augur well for sports.

And, add to that the total lack of dedication to national pride that is legendary in the administration circles, where IAS officers are heads of departments established to promote different sporting events, you have the perfect recipe for unmanageable disaster. In all this hectic lobbying to garner as much funds as possible for their own departments, the cause of the lonely sportsman is lost.

Besides that it is cricket that is enjoying cult status in the country today, and it looks doubtful if it will be toppled from its pedestal ever again. The corporate sector gets maximum mileage from this game and is prepared to spend all their pennies on it copiously. The cricket players are the darlings enjoying demi god status today. It is sometimes disheartening to see the crude display of arrogance due to money power by cricketers today.

The hockey or football star can hardly dream of similar cult following in this hopeless situation, where even the government sometimes bend the rules to accommodate cricket stars, while neglecting the truly international field games, in which India had won glory in the past. We are staring down a dark alley for other sport persons who contribute their might to put India on the sports map of the world.

Consider this; Sania Nehwal has done brilliantly in the past one month, winning three prestigious international badminton titles within three weeks. How much publicity or media spotlight does she command? Almost zilch compared to the thousands of minutes of air time given to India's winning of a silly Asia cup in cricket! This is our devotion to sportsmen or women in other sports in the country. She is the real world champion in our midst today, along with Vishwanathan Anand, the chess grandmaster and Mary Kom, our own girl. However, they get a reference here and there at times, while the news channels have special capsules on cricket every day. I sometimes wonder how many ordinary Indians even know of our own muscle girl with the punch of a polar bear in Mary Kom as a World Champion representing India in grand style consistently.

Thus, a long and hard look at sports in the country is urgently needed, but the political will is just not there to do that at the moment. Sports are money again, for the politician and his entourage and even his family members who get to travel VIP Class on research missions on sports to different corners the world. What they really achieve by undertaking those expensive research missions is a mystery and they seem accountable to none about it.

As long as this attitude retains its status quo, we will continue to languish at the bottom of world sports, with our supremacy in many athletic events restricted to the third world countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and even Pakistan. Olympic glory will remain just Olympic dreams of India!

I honestly feel that the Pakistanis are better in cricket than the Indians, since they seem to play with a pride for their country's honour while our cricketers play (with due respects to Mr.Sachin Tendulkar) with an eye on their pockets. They are more interested in laughing their way to the banks than to the winning podium. That sums up our misery in the sports arena of the world, and mind you cricket cannot be genuinely called a world sport, since it is played and followed in just a handful of countries.

Many countries in Europe have never even heard of this game, let alone watched a cricket match ever in their lives. Nevertheless for us, the cup will forever be only full of woes as long as the politicians and the administrators think in terms of babudom in this field. Real sportspersons do not even get a chance to be mentors in their particular sport, as their suggestions are not solicited to improve the shape of the sport to which they had committed their playing days.

Instead, a blue blooded IAS cadre is given the charge to develop a sport, which he had perhaps never ever played in his life, or even heard of. Our cup of woes is hence full to the brim folks. Seriously!

* N. Arunkumar contributes regularly to . The writer can be contacted at hareedesiree(at)hotmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on July 13, 2010.

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