The political resonance of the ODI World Cup finals played at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad can hardly be missed. The marquee tournament began in this stadium, with the defending champions taking on New Zealand more than a month ago.
That Ahmedabad, and not the more traditionally important cricketing centres in India such as Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, Kolkata’s Eden Gardens or even Chennai’s Chidambaram stadium, was chosen to host the finals is itself a largely political decision. But before the alarm bells start ringing, let’s be clear about one thing — sports and politics have always happily mixed all over the world.
So the common opinion that sports and politics should not mix, which many in the media too have happily parroted, is at best naïve or at worst dangerous.
Sport is something that operates within a social and political context. Though in sport rules are sacrosanct, the prevailing political and social values are bound to cast their shadow over it. The modern Olympics itself was a deeply political movement forged at the heyday of imperialism. Most modern sports were invented by the British and exported all over the world and was an important part of its “civilizing mission” in the 19th century. That many of the colonies used sports like cricket and football as a weapon to fight colonialism, after infusing them with a unique local idiom, is one of the fascinating sub-plots in the history of sports.
But there is a flip-side to this too — sport has also very often reflected the prevailing social and political fault-lines of society. In the 1970s and ‘80s English football was rife with racism, just when players of Afro-Caribbean origin were making their mark. The current majoritarian strand in Indian cricket fandom is there for all to see.
A more sobering assessment — sport is something that is always caught between its elevating goals and prosaic politics.