A war without guns

May 19, 2024

In the modern world, sports competitions and other TV contests are war by other means

A war without guns


he dream of sports and the arts being a true alternative to the tumult of vicious power politics has again been shattered.

Olympics were designed both in the ancient world and their reincarnation in the modern world to stress the individuality of both. One was not be affected by the other and human activity could continue without interruption in pursuit of higher values.

It appears that in the modern world sports is war by other means. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan have all the trapping of war; the ball and the bat are seen as weapons of warfare with their exponents fighting gladiator-like to death. In war as well as in sports, the ultimate result has to be the loss of a life and a gloating over victory. Honduras and El Salvador actually fought a war over the disputed result of a football match and the captain of a Colombian football team was shot dead by a fan after Colombian exit from the World Cup.

Just look at what happened at the Eurovision Song contest in Malmo. It was held amidst waves of protests over the inclusion of Israeli participants. Some of the contestants were discriminated against on charged of challenging or questioning the right to participate in the festival. The entire atmosphere of the contest was venomous, a reinforced shadow of the happenings outside the world of music.

The contest was darkly coloured by protests over Israel’s participation, due to the humanitarian cost of its war on Hamas. Thousands protested on the streets of Malmö, and the country’s representative, Eden Golan, received a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience.

Italy’s Angelina Mango and Ireland’s Bambie Thug were among contestants who complained of a “tense” and “horrible” atmosphere backstage. Dutch singer Joost Klein was sent home after being accused of intimidating behaviour by a female member of the production crew. When the Israeli singer was told she did not have to answer a question about whether her presence “posed a risk,“ Joost Klein interrupted to ask: “Why not?” Two days later, Klein was disqualified from the contest over an alleged run-in with a female member of the production crew, who made a complaint to Swedish police.

After the grand finale, Bambie Thug, who has been outspoken in pro-Palestinian views, also accused Israel’s national broadcaster, KAN, of “inciting violence” against them during its coverage.

This again brings into question the premise that art and sports are outlets for the aggressive instincts which otherwise would be manifested in the field of battle. It appears that the aggression is apparent and manifests in the contest or the venues with the same belligerence and is not an antidote to it. It actually builds up the hysteria that is essential to take up arms. The parallel act is no longer parallel for it reflects the same tensions that exist in the real world. It is not an alternative but an affirmation.

More than sports, the arts were supposed to be the ultimate response to the mundane tittle-tattle of life. But it seems that it feels like vicious propaganda to seek justification for use of violence. It is not a laidback activity that is mulled over in tranquility. It is the whipping up of emotions for a ready physical response. The very purpose of art is thus lost or is rendered subservient to the bigger cause of restoration of justice and peace through force.

In the Berlin Olympics, Hitler refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens, the winner of four gold medals because he was not the strong archetype white Arian that Hitler had built his nationalistic cult on. However, there was no respite for Owens as he went back to the United States, his home country, to a life of extreme racial discrimination in the years leading up to the World War II.

Golan, who came fifth in the Eurovision contest, acknowledged that the controversy over her appearance had taken a toll. “To say it was easy would be a lie,” she wrote on Instagram. “But your support and love gave me the strength to continue and put on the absolute best performance I knew I could do.” Several entrants, including the UK’s Olly Alexander, signed a statement calling for a ceasefire in Gaza in the run-up to the contest. Golan appeared to face criticisms from her fellow contestants.

However, in pursuit of human optimism they noted that “at the same time, there was so much love here as well,” adding that “maybe Eurovision needs fixing a little bit.“

The musical values too needed to be broadened a little. The contestants should not be judged exclusively by Western standards of music. The platform should be more respectful to a diverse critical canon. One is surprised at times to learn that a performer has been rewarded. To the home audiences it appears to be an appreciation unearned.

The writer is an art critic based in Lahore

A war without guns