Friday July 01, 2022

Cup of hatred

July 28, 2019

The cricket world cup is over. But in its wake the tournament has left the South Asian region even more divided and bitter. There used to be times when an India-Pakistan match in hockey or cricket would invoke excitement bordering on chauvinism. Broadsheets, in particular right-wing vernacular rags, would run sensational headlines. Come ‘free media’ in the form of commercial television channels in both in India and Pakistan, every match now becomes a site of war propaganda.

Of late, AfPak matches have assumed a similar war-like character. On June 29, the world cup match between the two countries introduced hooliganism in the cricketing culture. Fan(atic)s attacked each other both inside and outside the stadium. Social media became a virtual battleground on both sides of Torkham, spouting unbearable hatred and xenophobia.

Patriotic Pakistanis were expletively declaring their Afghan counterparts ‘Haramkhor’ (‘Thankless) and ‘Ehsanfaramosh’ (Opportunistic). Afghans, in turn, would declare Punjabis as ‘Ranjit Singh ki aulad’ (Children of Ranjit Singh).

In the case of a Bangladesh-Pakistan match, jingoism reigns equally supreme. While a Bangladesh victory (rare so far) is viewed as reaffirmation of their liberation war in 1971, jingoists in Pakistan do not forget to remind Bangladesh after every victory that ‘Bengal Tigers’ cannot achieve any victory without Indian help. India-Bangladesh matches are equally obsessive. Bangladesh, according to a BBC Urdu report, celebrated India’s defeat in the recent world cup semis.

However, no other contest between two South Asian nations invokes as much insanity as one between India and Pakistan. One of ugliest expression in this regard is the Mauka Maukaka ads started by an Indian sporting channel. Released ahead of an India-Pakistan match before the 2015 cricket world cup, the ad poisoned the atmosphere like never before.

Ahead of the latest world cup, perhaps in a bad to pre-empt Mauka Mauka, advertisement Pakistani ad tried to parody Abhinandan Varthaman’s brief talk in Pakistani custody. The not-so-subtle message was: Pakistan would keep inflicting defeats on India whether it was the battlefield or a playing field.

After the Pakistani defeat in the tournament, a new episode of the infamous Mauka Mauka ads was issued, also centre-staging Abhinandan. However, after the match the verbal war assumed an official twist too. BJP stalwart and India’s Union Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted: ‘Another strike on Pakistan by #TeamIndia and the result is the same’. Amit Shah got Pakistan’s response, couched in cricketing lingo, discursively establishing Pakistan’s victory over LoC February this year.

In short, cricket has become an extension of ruling class politics that thrives on the otherification of a perceived enemy. Above, I have largely quoted case studies from Pakistan only because I usually monitor Pakistani media and am exposed to Pakistani narratives on social media sites. An occasional viewing of Indian mainstream channels or social media depict that trade in hatred is carried out in kind.

It is also true that South Asia is not an exception. In 1969, a football match between Honduras and El Salvador invoked a 100-hour war. No doubt, the two countries were already at loggerheads. The match only provided the pretext for El Salvador’s attack on the former. Likewise, India-Pakistan or Pak-Afghan relations are sour. Sports only aggravate the situation.

What, however, explains this toxicity in sports? First, the way ruling classes exploit and politicise religion, memory, pseudo-science, myths etc; in a similar vein, they appropriate cultural expressions.

The history of modern/organised sports testifies to the above statement. The Berlin Olympics in 1936 is an epigrammatic example in this case. The Nazi regime transformed the Berlin Olympics into Nazi propaganda (of course, with the connivance of an Olympics Committee stuffed with right-wing millionaires). Sports affords the ruling classes the opportunity to unite their subjects in the name of the nation (‘Us’) against an enemy (‘Other’). National unity and patriotism whitewashes and conceals class contradictions, suppressed sub-nationalisms and undermines internationalism. Sports unite but only on the basis of the nation-state.

This brings us to the other explanation: sports under capitalism generates competition. Capitalism is characterised by competition. Sports can be organised differently. For instance, new forms of sports were encouraged in Soviet Russia after the Revolution of 1917. Such sports were aimed at generating a sense of solidarity instead of competition. Likewise, the labour movement in 1920s’ Europe initiated an alternative Olympics. The workers’ Olympics began to rival the mainstream Olympics in certain ways. The former in some instances attracted more audiences or in certain other cases staged more events.

These Olympics were marked by a sense of internationalism. For instance, athletes from the colonial world were given representation. The communist-socialist split and later the Second World War derailed the process. Post-WWII, the USSR decided to compete and outdo the capitalist block even in the Olympic arenas. Consequently, the movement for a workers’ Olympics fizzled out. In short, the present form of organised sports marked by competition is not a natural order of sports. Sport, like other cultural expressions, is also reflective of the socio-economic realities of a given epoch.

Since capitalism is organised on the basis of the nation-state, it unites people on a national basis. A post-capitalist world order will most likely transform sports and sporting culture too. The capitalist ideologies of division such as patriotism-premised-on-otherification will be replaced by inclusive ideologies marked by internationalism and solidarity.

Bollywood legend the late Om Puri comes to mind. Days before the fatal cardiac arrest that claimed his life, he had become a target for the saffron brigade for a statement they deemed unpatriotic. Months before his ‘unpatriotic statement’ about the Indian army, he visited Lahore. During his stay in Lahore, he also featured in a TV talk show. As was expected, the topic of cricket between India and Pakistan was also broached.

Om Puri Sahab, in his typical style, advocated resumption of cricketing relations between the two neighbours and expressed his wish to watch the India-Pakistan contest by holding flags of the respective countries. ‘When Pakistan hit a boundary, I will wave Pakistani flag. When India hit a boundary, I will unfurl the Indian tricolour,’ he said. Pity, cricketing doves are presently outnumbered by cricketing hawks.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: