The United Nations General Assembly named April 6 as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace because it says sport is an embodiment of humanity’s most valiant characteristics: perseverance and discipline, personal integrity and fair play.
It went on to say that sport provides an alternative to conflict and delinquency, a chance to improve health and usher in a sense of hope and purpose to impoverished communities and people in need.
When it issued this statement of lofty ideals, the UN could not have been thinking of India whose tryst with sports, or one sport in particular, is a serious embarrassment.
I’m talking about cricket, which many have called the country’s only religion; it unites its myriad of castes, creeds, languages and communities like no real religion does.
Millions play it on the streets and open grounds, and watch it on television or in a stadium. It evokes passion, entertainment, revenue and, yes, embarrassment.
The Economist reported that global cricket will generate revenues of about US$2.5 billion over the next eight years. India alone, through its various private cricket boards, is expected to amass the lion’s share of about US$450 million.
This is a lot of money in a country where poverty is rampant, infrastructure, health and other basic facilities painfully decrepit.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, about 56 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people lack the means to meet their essential needs. This is 2.5 times the official estimate of 270 million Indians. Either of those figures still leaves India with the world’s largest concentration of acutely deprived people.
Yet some Indian cricketers earn millions of dollars. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the national team, earns US$10 million a year. That’s about $5,426 for each run he scores. Forbes says that his US$8 million in endorsements, from multinationals such as Reebok, General Electric and Pepsi, is 45 percent higher than any other player.
In a few weeks time we will see the start of the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League by far the world’s richest national tournament. The teams in this league have, in widely publicized auctions, bought players from other cricket playing countries with offers as high as US$111,000 per three-hour match, or at least US$1.55 million for a five-week season.
One does not have to be a socialist or communist to see how absurd, immoral and unethical this is given that millions of Indians live on just 20 rupees (35 cents) a day, 50 percent go hungry and close to 60 percent defecate in the open because they do not have toilets.
I have nothing against cricket, a game which I grew up playing in the streets of my neighborhood with a handmade bat, a rubber ball and friends that I still have. I never made it into my school team but I do love the game.
Yet thinking of cricket today makes my stomach turn, by the way Indian players have amassed more wealth than is possible to use in a lifetime, all too often through ways that are not transparent and honest.
The IPL itself is mired in allegations of cronyism and a wide range of illegalities, with teams and players under investigation for corruption, match fixing and illegal betting.
It makes my stomach turn because all those millions of dollars from India’s meager resources could have been more equitably spent on more pressing needs and because they are being diverted away from other sports that lack the funding to develop and coach players.
It makes my stomach turn to see cricketers making an obscene show of their money by living a life of luxury, surrounded by personal security and police escorts, in a country where women have to walk kilometers and for hours to fetch drinking water or where every 20 minutes a woman is raped.
It is this grotesque dichotomy that makes me ill with embarrassment, not the game itself. With so much goodwill that cricket generates in India, it could have been what the UN wanted it to be, India’s chance to improve health and usher in a sense of hope and purpose to impoverished communities and people in need. Instead it is a wasted opportunity.
Categories: The Muslim Times