Sunil Chhetri’s tweet and the larger message of supporting our athletes
Around a week or so ago, if someone browsed through their social media, they would’ve seen a message from India’s football captain.
On a normal day, such posts are mostly made to either to give an update on an athlete’s life - injuries, family-related news and so on - or to make an announcement or to respond to a story in the media. Sunil Chhetri's tweet did not tick any of those boxes.
Our captain’s message was simple: come to watch us play at the stadium.
Whilst the message called out armchair critics who, in the comfortable confines of their homes, have been giving the team some stick, Chhetri’s message was primarily a call for support.
Moreover, Chhetri didn’t have a problem with the criticism per se, rather, his request was that people - fan or not - should come to the stadium and voice their discontent, even hurl abuse but while they’re at it, they should watch the team play.
When a sports fan sees a message like this, the immediate reaction would be to look up some stats and see if this is in response to a poor performance or to show support to an embattled teammate or a call to arms.
But this would be off the mark. The Indian football team has been doing well in the last year or so and the team’s captain has been in spectacular form. In fact, Chhetri’s message was posted in the aftermath of his sublime hat-trick against Chinese Taipei.
As it turns out, the real issue here isn’t the team or the captain. It is us.
For a country of a billion people, it is shocking that the world's most popular sport conjures so little emotion among the majority.
Perhaps this is why there is simply no reasonable explanation to offer as to why the Indian football team’s captain would be driven to send such a message. We are failing our footballers, and to paraphrase from my captain, we are also failing the best game in the world.
When athletes put on their national team’s jersey, it should elicit a powerful surge of emotion irrespective of the standing of the team.
Does that mean we don’t get angry when performances aren’t what we expect? Absolutely not. Does that mean we don’t call our players for mediocre performances? Absolutely not. Does that mean that we don’t question some of the decision-makers in the system when they make poor calls? Absolutely not.
The reasons are simple, Sport is special, it is addictive and it is inspiring. Thus, we react because we care and because when we can’t play ourselves, we want to be a part of a fellow Indian’s victory.
The most crystallized version of egalitarianism resides in the fact that when it comes to watching my countrymen compete, it matters little ‘who’ is rooting for my team. At that moment, we all want to win and win as Indians.
Chhetri’s message is also important because it is a call to action to support our footballers. But for those who couldn’t make it to the game - distance, scheduling etc. - the message should still resonate long after full-time and applies to any sport.
To begin with, going to a stadium can be a huge lift for any athlete and research has shown that stadiums filled to capacity improved a team’s performance by over 50%.
Since football is what kicked this discussion off, think of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final last season and the part passionate Liverpool supporters played in the team’s run.
Even beyond the stadium, we can show our support by keeping an eye out for talent closer to our own homes - it could be someone kicking a ball against the wall, it could be a kid who runs to school every day, it could be a disabled person who has always loved tennis.
Thanks to technology, we can play our ‘minor’ roles as scouts - shooting footage through our phones - and sharing it with coaches, academies or just YouTube.
Despite all the sabermetrics in the world, and armies of analysts working round the clock to improve performance by as little as 5%, the fact remains that when a talent catches a break, nobody can calculate the impact. But give it that little bit of support, that nudge and nobody can deny the impact of that act.
(The author is Country Head – Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical, IndusInd Bank)
What did you feel about Chhetri's plea to the fans? Sound off in the comments section below!