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The social challenge to hosting 2036 Olympic Games

The strong buzz, while theODI Cricket World Cupis underway, is aboutIndia making a bid for the 2036 Summer Olympics. Of course, there are nearly 13 years to prepare for that and let us not have much doubt about India pulling all stops and putting up the infrastructure in different places for the various disciplines and events that comprise the Olympic Games.

The physical part of the Olympic Games is one of the crucial dimensions and given the time and resources India will be well on the way to meeting the bill, hopefully, though there weremajor flaws, shortcomings, and obstaclesduring the conduct of the XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010.

The infrastructure and physical part of the Games involve economics, but that is not the be-all and end-all of the show. Since all events of the Games involve spectators, we must consider, and in a very serious way at that, the social and cultural aspects of the Games too. These social and cultural aspects will be visible to the entire world through electronic media in real-time, besides the tracks, grounds, and brick-and-mortar structures.

The social and cultural aspects comprise humans, particularly us citizens. While after a time the Games’ infrastructure and economics are taken for granted by the spectators, the conduct and behaviour of thespectators/crowdspresent in the stadia will be under the constant gaze of those watching the Games from around the world. So, it is crucial to consider and understand if India, that is India’s sports-minded public, is ready to witness and enjoy the Games for what they are — and not indulge in jingoistic ultranationalism bordering on xenophobia. Whether that is feasible can be judged from our conduct in recent sporting events that have happened in the past and are currently underway.

During the ongoing ODI World Cup, sections of spectators have exhibited undiluted and highly undesirable jingoism of the worst kind. No doubt an element of patriotism does overcome us while watching a sport between our home country and another one. Understandably, it is rather futile to expect that all the spectators will give primacy to the way the game is played and just enjoy the nuances and intricacies of the game, that is to appreciate the game per se and give a back seat to jingoism — and this is the problematic part.

When jingoism creeps in, the game gets reduced to a virulent sort of unilateral heckling and harassment of the opponent team and its supporters. There was no shortage of such toxic behaviour on the part of the Indian fans during the India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh matches in the ongoing ODI World Cup. The Pakistan teamhas officially lodged a protestto the International Cricket Council (ICC) about the crowd’s behaviour during the match at Ahmedabad. TheBangladeshifan washarassedand the tiger mascot that the team reveres was battered and reduced to smithereens by some spectators. No thought is given to the fact that when India plays a match in, say England, throngs of Indian spectators turn up and root for the visiting team. How would they take it if the bobbies there prevented them from cheering their favourites?

During the match between Australia and Pakistan in Bengaluru,a policemanat the stadium took it uponhimselfto preventa supporter of the Pakistan teamfrom cheering forhis team. The teams from Pakistan and Bangladesh no doubt represent those countries, but the players are not State actors, nor do they represent the politicos of those countries directly or indirectly. It seems these players are being targeted, unfortunately, as they represent countries where the majority religion happens to be anathema to India’s ruling Right-wing government. Due to political reasons tensions exist between India and these two countries, but pray, why target the innocent sports fraternity? They are here to display their sporting capabilities, they are not carrying arms for combat, and certainly do not perceive their opponents as enemies.

The current boorish behaviour across the various stadia in India is in complete contrast to what had occurred on January 31, 1999, at the Chepauk stadium in Chennai when Pakistan defeated India in a Test match. The spectatorsgave a standing ovation to the Pakistani teamwhen the players went on a victory lap! So, what has transpired in India now that there is such intolerance? Heightened religious polarisation within India since 2014 is a given, but extending that animosity towards visiting goodwill ambassadors is just uncalled for.

If India is serious about making a bid for the 2036 Summer Olympics, certain corrective measures as regards the State’s responsibility towards visiting teams should be the core on which any buildup can be envisaged. India’s political relations with its neighbours, especially Pakistan and China, are likely to remain tense in the near future. Given this, a momentous question will be — how will the Indian spectator react to the fact that China will surely be a serious participant in the 2036 Olympics and is more likely to emerge as a top team in terms of medals haul? Heckling and harassment will reflect unfavourably on India.

All said and done, we must remember whatPierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympic Games, said, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well”. That is what we must expect from the participating teams, and the hosting nation.

(M A Kalam, a social anthropologist, is former Dean and Professor of Anthropology, Krea University.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 23 October 2023, 07:28 IST)

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