In 2005, India’s tourism ministry launched a campaign with the slogan “Atithi Devo Bhavah”, a Sanskrit phrase that means a guest is akin to God. The aim was to encourage stakeholders and the public at large to be hospitable and respectful towards visitors and, thereby, boost tourism in the country, home to a wealth of cultural and historical attractions.
Even before the World Cup started, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s mismanagement of the schedule and inefficient handling of ticket sales had left both foreign and home fans struggling to make travel plans.
Then there was the behaviour of the Indian fans themselves.
During the hotly contested India-Pakistan match in Ahmedabad, which was already on edge because of strained political relations between the two countries, the home fans created a hostile atmosphere.
While sporting rivalries as charged as India versus Pakistan always see fans goading players on the opposite side, this wasn’t just good-natured banter.
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Pakistan’s cricket board has already filed an official complaint with the International Cricket Council against the behaviour of the Indian fans in Ahmedabad.
It was not an isolated incident. Indian fans ripped up a stuffed tiger that belonged to a Bangladeshi fan and the Bengaluru police stopped some Pakistan fans from chanting slogans in support for their team during the match against Australia.
The spate of online abuse faced by fans supporting their own team at an international tournament is ever increasing and highly nonsensical. Not to mention when Indian fans praise a player from another team, they may receive replies like, “why are you living in India” and “go live in so-and-so country then”.
Back in 2018, former India captain Virat Kohli was slammed for suggesting that Indians who supported other cricket teams over their own should leave the country.
Intolerance towards foreign fans coming to India to support their own teams harms the very spirit of the game. And it makes for uncomfortable viewing when fans are wary of rightfully praising players from other countries and denies space for opposition fans.
Olympic and World javelin champion Neeraj Chopra said that India should host the World Athletics Championships, and the Indian federation has given early indication that it would want to put its name in the hat to host the event.
On October 15, during the 141st session of the International Olympic Committee in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government’s intention to bid for hosting rights of the 2036 Olympics.
Both the World Athletics Championships and the Olympics are much bigger spectacles – with greater global reach – than the Cricket World Cup. Competitors from over 150 countries could be expected to descend upon India along with fans from all over the world if India does win the hosting rights.
India has shown that it can develop the facilities needed to host a grand sporting event, from the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Fifa Men’s and Women’s Under-17 World Cups in 2017 and 2022 respectively, and now the Men’s Cricket World Cup.
But, judging from what has been on display at this World Cup, the spirit is lacking.
This has not been a World Cup that will have many travellers go home with happy memories. Not yet, at least.