Roger Federer being made to apologize to Pakistani fans is wrong on a lot of levels
Did you know that in the India vs Pakistan match on 15th February in Australia, India beat arch-rivals for the 6th consecutive time in World Cup history?
Did you know that during the match tennis ace and India’s most beloved non-Indian sportsperson Roger Federer posted a Facebook photo of himself holding an Indian jersey?
Did you know that Federer has been made to apologize for posting that absolutely harmless photograph?
Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, Federer, the most successful tennis player and the second most trustworthy person in the world according to one study, has apologized! And we thought that we had no freedom of expression in our country.
Here’s what happened – the above photograph seemed to have hurt the sensibilities of Federer’s Pakistani fans and a Cambridge student, writing for Express Tribune (an English newspaper in Pakistan), claimed he had deleted all his Federer photos and taken a brief opinion poll in which 10 out of 12 Pakistanis apparently felt hurt or betrayed. Here’s the original article.
Now Federer is the brand ambassador for Nike, the same kit sponsor as the Indian team, and is known to follow cricket to a certain degree owing to his part South African parentage. Currently in the UAE for the Dubai Open, where he is the defending champion, this is what he said, “It was more of a Nike thing to be quite honest. It was a Nike campaign they had because I met some of the Indian players and I had just spent some time in India so they presented the shirt to me. I support South Africa, and everybody knows that. The idea wasn't to spark any fire and I'm sorry if it did that.”
Federer added that his cricket following depended on where he was. "When I'm in America definitely not. When I'm in Europe definitely not. But then when I'm in Australia and here (in the UAE) a little bit sometimes. So it really depends where I am in the world which sport I follow."
That’s that then; a sportsperson did what his sponsor asked him to do and when faced with backlash, dutifully apologized. But that’s not it! There are a number of things that annoy me about this supposed ‘controversy’. I respect the writer and his freedom of expression. So here’s me using my freedom of expression to say why this is an unjustified overreaction.
Firstly, the language.
"But sadly it’s time to say farewell. And yes, this has to do with the picture you posted holding the Indian team shirt, and the hashtag #BleedBlue, overtly signifying loyalty to India.” So? Would you stop supporting a sportsman who has been such an inspiration to you (as suggested by the article) just because he supports a rival team in another sport? Whatever your reasons, cricket is only a sport, you know, not war.
“I’m upset that you chose to support India over Pakistan, publicly. This made it seem like your Pakistani fans are expendable (…) This public display of support for India represents a ruthless valuation of your Pakistani fans, based on their economic and brand impact.” He NEVER insinuated that, it was your interpretation of the photograph.
“After you posted the picture, I did an informal poll of the dozen biggest Pakistani Roger fans I know. (…) But 10 of the 12 felt seriously hurt or betrayed. Six of those 10 said you had acted “like a sell-out” and have stopped supporting you altogether.” Sell-out? Imagine calling a sportsperson of his stature a sell out? That’s rich coming from cricket fans of a country that have so many cricketers actually involved in ‘selling out’
“I deleted over a hundred Roger posts from my Facebook wall as well as the photo collection I had painstakingly put together. I also donated my RF cap and my collection of books about you.” That says more about you than about him, actually.
Secondly, it seems that he is more offended by the hashtag Bleed Blue than by the image. I hope he realizes that it is the tagline of a marketing campaign and does not really reflect the colour of his actual blood. Technically, Federer is allowed to bleed whatever he wants, as long as he is doing his duty as a player, ambassador and family man. Plus, it’s a free world and he can support whichever country, in war as much as in sport.
It is not like he wore the flag, cheered wildly for India, and desecrated the Pakistan colours. Just because the opinion of your idol doesn't match yours, doesn't make him any less or invite such scathing criticism on his integrity. Like I love Iker Casillas but if he wants Pakistan to beat India in match and says so publicly, I won’t be cut up over it! Because I understand that it is a sport, even when played between two countries with bloody history.
Thirdly, when you are a fan of sport, you are supposed to have some spirit of sportsmanship. This writer seems to lack that even though he has attempted to write a balanced piece giving his thoughts on why he thinks Federer did it. And any fan without sporting spirit shouldn’t ideally question that of others, least of all a sporting legend. It just shows that you as a fan, and maybe as sporting nation, are not objective enough.
What if Pakistan had won that match? Would you still have outraged over the innocuous image? Or laughed at Nike’s presumptuousness?
I’ll conclude by apologizing to Roger Federer, because he shouldn't be the one to apologize. As an Indian, I was proud to see you with our jersey, as a sports fan, I was happy to see you involved in other sports and as a cricket fan I am sorry that other cricket ‘fans’ treated you in this manner. You are a great player and deserve the respect of every fan, irrespective of who you choose to support in other sports.
All the best for your Dubai Open campaign, and you can be assured of a billion Indian wishes. As always, Allez Roger, je t’aime!