Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a much loved and admired sportsperson not only for his outstanding cricketing skills and achievements but also for his sombre, responsible behaviour on the field. He is the last person you would imagine would get into a controversy that pits him against the rules of the ICC. By wearing his nationalism on his sleeve, in this case on his gloves through the display of an army insignia, his supporters say he has displayed his love for the country.
The ICC’s objection to the use of such “personal messages” is what has led to a debate. Dhoni, it seems, has now the backing of a vast majority, that includes the Government and the BCCI as well for his symbolic act that has further ignited the ambers of jingoism that is sweeping across the country. This sentiment is believed to be so strong that it led to an unprecedented electoral victory for the BJP last month. Dhoni, the silent, emotionless assassin on the cricket field is going to become the new symbol of this blind love for the country that is almost visceral in nature. So strong is this “India first” fervour, that anyone coming in its way forced to reassess his position as a citizen of this country.
Dhoni, who is rumoured to have strong right-wing leanings and could have been a BJP candidate from Ranchi had he still not been an active cricketer, is a lieutenant colonel of an elite para regiment, whose insignia he was displaying on his gloves. His fierce love for his country led him to initiate the move that made the entire Indian team wear camouflage hats against the Australians in an ODI game post the Pulwama terror attack that killed around 50 India soldiers. The ICC had no problems then but has now with an individual doing so.
It is ironic that a country that has often in the past used its cricket team as ambassadors of peace, has now done a 360-degree turnaround and does not mind its players becoming pawns in their war games. In today’s hate-filled atmosphere it is hard to believe that India and Pakistan have often in the past played the cricket card to clear the war clouds that hang over the subcontinent’s toxic air most of the time.
The aphorism that “culture and sports bind, war divides” has no meaning in the present context. India now sees its cricketing strength as another form of its muscular power to be used as a tool to subdue its “enemies”. It is an emotion that has seeped into all walks of life and we can’t expect cricketers to be any different, especially when those in power encourage this kind of an attitude.
So blinded are we by our own sense of entitlement and superiority, we can’t see the dangerous pitfalls of politicising our cricket team. What is right for us, can’t be wrong for others. Pakistan too can tomorrow walk into the cricket field wearing its army dress, so could other teams as well. What a spectacle it would be to see teams in army fatigues waging a war against each other! Does India want to be responsible for creating an atmosphere where sports, to take liberty with George Orwell, becomes “war plus the shooting.”
The only might that is right on the sports field is the superior skills of a team and not its financial, military strength or its political rivalries.
The ICC should strengthen its regulations which ban any form of military, religious or racist symbols on the sporting field. It needs to expand and detail what it considers are these symbols and impose harsh penalties for those who don’t fall in line. It is India today, tomorrow it could be Pakistan or any other team. This virus, which is spreading like wildfire, has to be stopped somehow otherwise it will devour us all.