(Published in Sify.com on 6 Jult, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/do-we-play-other-sports-too-now-news-columns-mhglXXhjeah.html)
For the first time in heaven alone knows how long, six athletes from sports other than cricket have been dominating the headlines, for different reasons.
On Thursday, the big news was that Sporting Lisbon has signed on Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri, to play for the club’s B-side first, from which he will hopefully be fast-tracked into the main side.
For a couple of weeks now, the media has trailed track runner Pinki Pramanik, from police station to hospital to wherever she goes. A 29-second MMS clip, which reportedly shows her in the nude as she undergoes a gender test, has gone viral.
A few days ago, boxer Mary Kom has announced that she has been conferred the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The media is thrilled that a woman athlete has finally been drafted into an, umm, honorary military that can also boast of cricketers Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Olympic gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra (well, at least we know he has a skill that would come in handy in the Army.)
And the tennis triumvirate of Sania Mirza, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi has been trending on Twitter and popping up in the papers for all the wrong reasons, complete with spelling errors.
All of a sudden, it appears India doesn’t just play cricket anymore. Oh, wait, there was the IPL match-fixing scandal, and the bans that followed the exposé. But none of the cricketers implicated was high-profile enough for the media to stalk.
Unlike Pinki Pramanik, who can’t take a leak without the media peering to see whether she squats or stands. Yes, the charge against her is a serious one. And if it is true, it would make her as much of a monster as any other rapist.
But from the news items concerning her, it seems easy to forget that she is being tried on a rape charge, rather than on the charge of beguiling the country, and the world, into thinking she is a woman.
And as the media oscillates between sympathy and condemnation for her, we’re losing track of the facts.
Whatever someone is accused of, there is absolutely no justification for a video of that person’s medical examination being shot, and then posted in the public domain. It’s even more shocking that the person, or people, responsible for the MMS clip have not been caught yet.
The media circus surrounding Pink Pramanik serves as some reflection of the attitude of our country towards sports other than cricket. We find most excitement in what happens outside the sporting arena.
It’s been only a month and a half since Mary Kom qualified for the London Olympics. Chances are that more has been written about her in that time than in her entire career. For ten years before this, she has been returning with medals from the biennial World Boxing Championships.
And yet, our sporting goods companies have been hankering after actresses to be brand ambassadors. British magazine SportsPro recently ranked Mary Kom 38th most marketable sportsperson in the world, but the only major brand the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award winner has been associated with is nutrition company Herbalife.
Her sponsor for the Olympics is Olympic Gold Quest, a not-for-profit organisation started by Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi. Our government, of course, needs to save its taxpayer money to throw at our world champion cricketers.
Now, social media forums are inundated with posts by football fans from India, who’ve suddenly decided Sunil Chhetri is their hero, the man who’s done them proud. Meanwhile, India doesn’t have a single football stadium that can compare with the ones he will be playing at in Portugal.
Why is it that our athletes outside of cricket can garner national attention only when they either get international attention, or get caught in a controversy? Chances are that cricket will always be the favourite game of the country. But should it be the favourite game of the government too? And should it remain the only game that the media and sporting goods companies focus on, unless compelled to shift their attention?