Between the ideal and the idol exists a real world of success, failure, beauty and the ugliness that defines human beings. This is as true of you and me as it is of achievers in any field, sporting or otherwise. However, the advertising industry that milks the excellence and achievements of a sportsperson to sell their wares, would want their target audiences to believe in the infallibility of the superhero, who can do no wrong. Perfection in the field of sport is not just attributed to the performer’s talent, hard work, self belief and favourable circumstances, but also to his or her being an ideal human being.
Since someone is good at winning, being a champion, that person is a perfect ambassador for all human values. When sportspersons do well, they mouth the line that “they have done this for their country”. This cheers the populace as an individual or team becomes the symbol of the nation and its greatness. And then the advertiser takes over. He waves the flag, presents the champion as a paragon of all virtues and quietly slips in his real message: This person endorses my product, so must you.
In this world suffused with greatness all around, the world appears an ideal place to live and consume all the goodies on sale. The real world, unlike the fantasy created by the reel world, is neither black nor white, but a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter how great a sportsperson may be, he is human first and a product of his time. Greatness in one’s chosen field does not guarantee immunity from human frailties. Time and again there have been sporting greats who have been caught cheating, abusing their privileges and displaying human emotions of envy, jealously or anger, which may have disrupted their own or their team’s performance.
Therefore no one should be surprised in India’s best known woman cricketer Mithali Raj accusing her coach, a former India player, Ramesh Powar, of being biased against her. No surprise either when the coach reveals that the culprit is the player herself, who puts her own interests above that of the team. It is human to believe in one’s own greatness and lay the blame at somebody else’s door. Let us not judge at the moment who is right and who is wrong, as a jury of wise people will decide that for us, for sure.
We have seen and heard similar tales before and will see similar accusations and counter accusations in future as well. Who can forget Sourav Ganguly’s spat with Greg Chappell. That drama’s cutting edge was lent by the differing nationalities of the two players. An Aussie out to destroy an Indian great’s career and credibility! That much publicized fight had a nation enraged and involved for months together and when Sourav had the last laugh, the advertisers roared with him.
Women’s cricket in India is a pale shadow of what the men’s game is, in its popularity, spread, reach and the money it generates. Of late it has gained ground and judging by the competitive spirit of the players, their talent and skill, it is going to only grow and become more and more popular.
Mithali is the brand ambassador of women’s cricket in India. Her graceful, elegant batting, appetite for runs and leadership qualities have only enhanced the prestige of her sport among the masses. Her being axed from the semifinals of the T20 World Cup, especially after having performed so well, was a contentious decision, the burden of which could finally stifle coach Powar.
Powar’s accusations against Mithali are equally damaging, as he calls her selfish and working against the team’s interests. And, as was to be expected in the present times, the word patriotism has also been thrown into the mix. No one questions Mithali’s greatness as a player, but her “patriotism” being questioned, as she claims, is not germane to the issue. To be a great sportsperson one need not be a patriot and patriots too can have feet of clay.