The day after a defeat for the Indian cricket team – no less against arch rivals Pakistan in a world event – is usually cue for the country’s media to bring out its heavy artillery. This one was bad – India had lost to Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy on Sunday. By 180 runs. It rarely gets worse than this.
Incredibly, then, many Indian newspapers went easy on Virat Kohli and his men. Most headlines and reports were in awe of Pakistan, rather than ranting against India.
The news channels, however, were not so sensitive. While Aaj Tak asked their viewers whether captain Kohli had been born in Pakistan, ABP News produced a seven-minute-long video asking whether a Pakistani journalist’s voodoo powers were responsible for India’s defeat.
Then, we have Times Now. The same channel that started a #ShamedInSydney hashtag on social media when India lost the 2015 World Cup semi-final to Australia by 95 runs.
This time, Times Now went further. They did not criticise the Indian players for their performance on the field. Instead, they organised an hour-long debate on whether the cricketers had “let our braves down” by not wearing black arm bands in solidarity with the country’s soldiers who were killed by militants along the border with Pakistan a day before the match. India’s hockey team had done so for its game against Pakistan on the same day.
India’s “ornamental patriots”, the channel called the Indian cricketers, referring to the honorary ranks and positions given to Kohli, MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev by the Indian army in the past. #CricketersForgetBraves was the hashtag this time.
The channel even got a journalist to chase India’s Hardik Pandya and Yuvraj Singh down the streets of London asking them why they weren’t sporting black arm bands for the Indian soldiers like their hockey compatriots had done in their match against Pakistan.
Athletes in political protest has a long history, from boxer Muhammad Ali refusing to serve in the US army during the Vietnam war, to cricketer Moeen Ali wearing wrist bands saying “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” during a match. But the difference between those two examples – and numerous others in the past – and the current one is that both the Alis chose to do what they are doing.
It is not the responsibility or obligation of the Indian team to convey a political stance – leave alone one which some players may not even concur with – on the field. Hockey India said that theirs was a “unanimous decision” and there is no choice but to take them at face value. But if the Board of Control for Cricket in India or the team management did not think about doing the same, or did not want to do the same, can anyone really hold them guilty for it?
It’s a different matter that even if every Indian cricketer did want to sport black arm bands, the International Cricket Council’s rules on clothing and equipment do not grant approval to “wear, display or otherwise convey messages...which relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes”.
But that’s not even the point.
Kohli and his team are not obliged to wear arm bands, or do anything in support of the Indian army. If Times Now as an organisation feels so strongly about the matter, perhaps the management should get its own staff – not least the very journalists questioning the cricketers on air – to wear black arm bands before asking others to do so?
In India, hypernationalism and sport sell together like wine and cheese. This wasn’t the first time that a media organisation has tried to tug on the strings of nationalism in their viewers in a bid to sell a story. Hell, it wasn’t not even the first time in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Times Now was one of the Indian media outlets that had called for a boycott of the India-Pakistan group-stage match of the Champions Trophy on June 4. #BoycottPakMatch and #WhyPlayPak were the hashtags used at the time. And this won’t be the last time they do it.
However, to get some real perspective, Times Now, and anyone with similar beliefs, should check out this quote by Bangladesh cricket captain Mashrafe Mortaza on cricket-based patriotism and spare us the hit-and-run journalism:
“I say, those who cry ‘patriotism, patriotism’ around cricket, if all of them for one day did not drop banana skins on the streets or did not spit on the streets or obeyed traffic rules, the country would have changed. This huge energy was not wasted after cricket and was used to do one’s work honestly even for a day, that would be showing patriotism. I don’t understand the definition of patriotism of these people.”
If they still don’t get it, perhaps they should check out how the Indian and Pakistani cricketers behaved with each other before and after the final:
And if they still don’t get it, perhaps they should just stick to boycotting the matches and save everyone the hassle.