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Sports - Its essence and relevance

Sports, its essence and relevance

The dictionary says:

“Sport is an outdoor or indoor game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill and usually carried on according to rules.”

On asking a sport fan how she defined the sport she follows madly, she replied

Sport is much more than being just a physical game; it is a way of life.

What allure do sports and the respective sportspersons hold for us? Why is sport such a big deal?

Astronauts explore the world which helps us attain a deeper understanding of life and our existence. Ministers are there to administer nations or regions. Scientists develop or research, making the world a better place to live in. The question is, what exactly do sportspersons do? Try to win events or  tournaments and make money out of it? Are they just entertainers?

Let’s try and know better.

Meet Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary aka Sudhir Kumar Gautam. You might have had a glimpse of him on TV or in the stands even if you are a lay follower of Indian cricket.

Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary waving the tricolour

He has been to every cricket match India has played since 2003, donning tricolour paint on his bare upper body, with “Tendulkar 10″ written on his chest and his back as a tribute to the craft of the master. For some overseas tours, he also collects funds from cricket-loving public. If the matches are held in the Indian sub-continent across the border, he often pedals his cycle to cricket playing venues, as he did to Bangladesh to witness the ODI World-Cup in 2010. His fascination to watch an India match sometimes forces him to have ticket-less travels in trains to reach venues, to save money.

He is unemployed, unemployed for watching the game he loves, the sport which drives his fuel. He paints his body on the day prior to a match and skips sleep that night to retain the texture of the paint on his body for the match day, such is his dedication towards his cause.

Donning the tri-colour, he says “This is my life”. He had once even received blows from a few cops, but Sachin got him verified in the stadium and he recovered well.

His cricket following has led him to build several friendships in Dhaka, Lahore and Colombo, some of whom are also his fans. He rarely visits his home in Bihar. “There is just so much cricket”, he says with unparalleled excitement.

Sachin Tendulkar, as a mark of tribute to his amazing devotion to Indian cricket, after winning the World Cup on 2nd April 2011, asked Sudhir to come to the dressing room and let him have the privilege of lifting the World Cup, both in person and with him.

Sudhir with the World Cup trophy along with Sachin Tendulkar

He, in a way, represents what cricket brought to the then underrated nation of India back in the 80s and the 90s, where cricket not only gave her back an identity and self-recognition, but also helped in some way to unify the masses in the country while providing brief respite from every negative event that happened in the country then. Cricket soon spread massively in India and the person who’s name Sudhir paints on his chest, played a huge part in that.

Cricketers eventually were looked upon as heroes, their every statement in public was judged, every performance lived, their conduct followed upon. The sport itself started touching people’s lives as well.

A certain Anil Kumble with his witty and skillful bowling took 10 wickets in an innings against arch-rivals Pakistan in 1999 and brought home a rare world record which made people proud and inspired them to strive for more.

A little fella named Sachin Tendulkar showed a rare attribute of Test batsmanship to the world with his hundreds at the most difficult of venues for batting, along with the other umpteen knocks he played that rescued or put his team in a terrific position. Also, he in a way redefined opening the batting in ODIs. Apart from being recognised for his batting expertise and flair, he became a sensation around the world and an idol in India, a hero which India needed back then, and with his true dedication for the game and his team he inspired many.

A certain gentleman named Rahul Dravid, who on his debut almost scored a hundred at the “Mecca of cricket’, Lord’s, was asked to revisit his batting style in ODIs to find a place in the ODI team, and he did that in style by becoming the highest scorer in the 1999 World Cup at England. His dogged persistence in batting and aptness with words made people go crazy over him and taught people the important lessons of self-discipline, patience and hard work.

Ajit Agarkar, one of India’s better medium pacers, had become a laughing stock both in India and Australia after he got out on for nought for five consecutive innings in Australia in 1999. He eventually scored a 22-ball ODI 50 a  few months later, and a century at Lord’s in the final innings of a Test match the corresponding year, something that even some of the greatest of batsmen haven’t managed. With his spirited reply, he left many in awe.

The second India-Australia Test match win in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Kolkata in 2001, where India won the match from a position of humiliation, is deemed by many as one of the most inspiring moments in their lives.

Eventually, cricket in India grew like wildfire, from cities to towns to villages, and brought along with it immense passion and a lot of money, and India soon became a country known for it’s cricket and it’s cricketers. People from all corners dreamt of representing India and people like MS Dhoni, the village bus-conductor who became the Indian cricket team’s captain, is the best example of that.

But, this cricket revolution didn’t just come along without a reason, in fact, it was triggered moments after the 1983 World Cup final win by Kapil Dev and Co. against the mighty West Indies, for until then cricket was just another sport in India.

It is amazing if you visualize what that World Cup win in 1983 did to India and it’s people.

For it could have been just another day, just another match.

For, the dictionary said that sport is just an “outdoor or indoor game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill and usually carried on according to rules”.

Lets now talk about the world’s most followed sport. Today, football is played by more than 200 nations, a figure that exceeds the number of nations registered in the United Nations(193), with an estimated 4 billion fans, and it certainly speaks something about the sport. For the elite or old teams registered in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association [FIFA] and their respective fans, football is the ultimate passion and a way of life, whereas for the poor and smaller nations in FIFA, football gives them hope, identity, pride and happiness.

Lets take the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country which got independence in 1992, and one that experienced the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare between 1992-1996. Soon after the ‘Seige of Sarajevo’ (it’s capital city) and the Bosnian war ended in early 1996, it’s small footballing association, led by a few brave individuals who were already taking early steps for getting enrolled in the FIFA, eventually got inducted into FIFA as a guest member in mid-1996. Soon it was allowed to play friendly matches.

Fuad Muzurovic, Bosnia’s first coach, gathered his team in Zagreb for their first-ever friendly match, but only eight players came. The match was technically not in the FIFA calendar and the clubs did not want to release their players, thus making some of the key players unavailable.

I remember,” says Mr. Muzurovic, “that I gathered my assistants and we decided that, if we couldn’t find more players, we should play. We just wanted to have a national team, no matter the squad, no matter the performance, no matter the result”.

A few of the senior players had already retired, but with a couple of late additions, they were able to amass 11 players. They played in the jerseys that they bought in one of Zagreb’s sports shops hours before their flight. Bosnia and Herzegovina lost 2-0. But then, their only objective was to get enrolled as a proper member of the FIFA.

18 years later, when a certain Vedad Ibisevic launched a ball past the goal line, the whole nation erupted in joy and the streets were filled with thousands of people celebrating. That goal by Ibisevic had ensured a 1-0 win over Lithuania in the World Cup qualifiers and with that, the qualification of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The thousands celebrating and dancing on the streets that night simply forgot about the European Union (EU), which is threatening the small Balkan country with sanctions. Even their common folks as-well-as political figures dropped all the political issues and World Cup qualification was the only thing that was being talked about both on the social and the print media.
Their football team not only gave their citizens a moment to rejoice that day, but also gave them a strong message of unity and hope, and a sign that things could be way better if they all stay together. On 15 June 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina will face Argentina in their first-ever World Cup match. But even before the start of the match and the World Cup, they have already won.

Fans celebrate world cup qualification in Sarajevo

That is the thing about sports, it embodies in itself the very precious values of life.

The great Rahul Dravid, in one of the press conferences post his retirement, on being asked whether he considered himself a hero, replied “My only qualification is that I come on television more than a nurse or a soldier or a teacher. Anyway, I don’t think sportsmen can really be considered heroes.

Not only did this highlight Dravid’s evergreen wisdom, but the statement he gave was also absolutely true.

Sportspersons can never be the kind of heroes soldiers, teachers or doctors are. But just that, sportspersons represent in a way how what heroes look like, what glory looks like, what struggle looks like and the sport itself shows what life is like.

In it’s modes of victory and defeat, it teaches us the very virtues of life, and the sportspersons are quite simply, the messengers.

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