Thanks to a good physical education program in elementary school, I was raised to play and like sports, even though I’m no great athlete and made a less than intimidating quarterback on the soccer field. I once lost my volleyball team the game because I was daydreaming and caught the ball instead of bouncing it back, and I spent most of the games period in boarding school hiding out behind a dorm curtain, drinking tea and reading. But I have no aversion to healthy sweat: I still exercise on most days, play some feeble badminton, go rafting, and get sunburned. At one time I could have sworn that I had a couple of muscles.
Sport is the best training ground for things like fair play, teamwork, spectator etiquette, and the fact that you win some and you lose some. But apparently not so in India. I’m really looking forward to watching New Delhi host the Commonwealth Games 2010. Here’s how it’s going to go.
There is much laughter and fellow feeling among athletes, and between athletes and spectators. For weeks beforehand, the newspapers produce special supplements listing the stars, the managers, the teams, the odds, the facts, and the trivia. Everyone picks his or her favourites and sinks all his or her time, energy and wealth into collecting memorabilia, praying for the subject’s health, and therapist visits to steady pre-event nerves.
The Games begin. The Gambian gymnast stumbles slightly on her final triple somersault landing; we toss broken bottles at her from the stands. The Indian squash player comes in second; we burn his effigy. The Canadian track star comes in a split second after his previous best time; we tear down his Games village hostel room. On one day the Kenyan archer hits the bullseye dead centre because his girlfriend accepted his marriage proposal; we write reams of newsprint on the new deity of archery, make him endorse all our products, invite him to model clothes at a fashion show, and bully the Kenyan government into granting him a lifelong tax waiver. The next day the Kenyan archer misses the bullseye by one handspan (because his girlfriend discovered his lying, cheating ways, and returned the ring); we throw bottles at him, burn his effigy and burn down his Games Village hostel room.
When it comes to sport, India inevitably loves not wisely, but too well. If the Commonwealth Games of 2010 go off without this kind of screechingly stupid behaviour, it is likely to be only because of another of our least attractive national traits, namely our unctuous desire to impress our guests (especially the rich white ones, even if it means herding all the beggars into shelters to ‘clean up’ the streets, or blasting metros through protected areas and ripping out trees).
It really should not be a matter of surprise that the Indian cricket team is composed of men who play cricket, not gods in the shape of the slightly paunchy fellows who appear on television hawking soap or petrol or credit cards. They play cricket like all sportsmen: sometimes well, sometimes poorly. If they won most of the time, that would make them a good team. If they lose much or most of the time, that makes them a middling or poor team.
Frankly, it’s your own fault if you forgot this and had your hopes and dreams crushed. If you happen to be outraged about your money riding on a bunch of losers, it’s your own fault for putting it there. If you want surefire returns, invest in government bonds. The unpredictability of sport is what makes it fun to watch in the first place. Surely, if you knew the outcome of every sporting event to begin with, there wouldn’t be much point in having a match?