Formula none

Published August 21, 2022
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.

THE interplay between sports and politics is a fascinating study. From Formula One to freestyle wrestling — politics pervades it all. Not just the inner machinations of these sporting activities and their parent organisations like FIFA and the Internatio­nal Olympics Committee, but actual political players, world leaders, movements, and pressure groups that capitalise on the great admiration mankind has for sports personalities.

According to Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape, sports is the closest surrogate for the earliest human survival pursuits ie, hunting, and defending and/or expanding hunting grounds (read wars). The ball has replaced either the prey or the arrow; the goalpost is the bullseye, and the trophy the winner holds aloft for the entire stadium to see is the symbolic scalp of the defeated army’s commander — usually the king in olden times.

From Hitler’s Olympics, where his theory of Aryan supremacy was trashed by African American athlete Jesse Owens, to Mohammad Ali sacrificing his boxing titles and serving time for calling Vietnam an unjust war, to PLO’s publicity stunt at the Munich Olympics — sports’ entanglement with politics and the attendant blood and gore seem inescapable.

Sporting symbols like the sword, arrow and cricketing bat have been adopted by political parties as their insignia in Pakistan, which has also witnessed other aspects of the interplay between politics and sports. The 1992 Cricket World Cup threw up a sporting hero known as much for his looks as his cricketing prowess. All that remained for the political nursery, euphemistically called ‘the establishment’, was to adopt and tutor him in employing his fame to grab power — in the greater national interest of course.

The teams were taught to play rough and dirty.

The same coaches who were putting Imran Khan through his paces had also involved the country in a regional ‘great game’, and the teams were taught to play rough and dirty — no sportsman spirit there. Destroying the pitch is an old cricketing trick employed by rival village teams in big-city stadiums to deny victory to the rivals. The ghastly attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 not just hurt Pakistan’s image in the short run, but also destroyed its international cricketing pitch for a long time.

While Pakistan nursed its wounds and its home-grown tormentors grew stronger, bolder, and turned into Frankenstein’s monsters — not just biting the hand feeding them but trying to swallow the ‘feeders’ whole — their idealogues’ fingers began to be burned by the very fire they had lit.

While girls in Afghanistan do not know if they will ever go to school again, and academic institutions in different parts of Pakistan issue decrees exhorting female students to wear the hijab, the ideologues decided to ditch their strictures in their desert sheikdoms. Suddenly, art museums, sports galas, mixed-gender concerts, and cinemas are all the rage as carbon fuels and free ports alone will not cut it anymore. For us though, official oil at deferred payments — interest rates unknown — and unofficial funding for seminaries remain the norm. The seeds of sectarian violence deposited in the surrogate wombs of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh continue to reproduce the progeny of hate while their biological parents go about rebranding themselves as moderates.

Returning to sports and its crisscrossing with politics, while Pakistan has still not fully recovered from the attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team, a Houthi missile attack from Yemen came close to disrupting the F1 Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia in March this year. The race went ahead, leaving many questions in its wake.

The much-reviled Marcos family is back in power in the Philippines despite the country’s bursts of infatuation with boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, whose popularity at one point seemed all set to floor every politician in the country. Over here, another sporting star is biding his time and hedging his bets. In the looks department, he lacks for nothing, and on top of it, he did not waste any time pretending to follow academic pursuits in Oxbridge like so many offspring of the privileged before him.

Nooh Butt and Arshad Nadeem have recently provided a booster dose of self-esteem to the country by respectively winning gold medals in weightlifting and javelin throw at the Commonwealth Games. They deserve all the adulation and accolades. It is hoped that they are appropriately rewarded for a lifetime of dedication to their chosen sport and for bringing glory to the country. However, one also hopes that the ‘nursery’ will let them be and not throw them into the political arena. No prizes for guessing whether there would have been newspaper spreads celebrating our women swimmers had they won at the same Commonwealth games. Go on, nation! Applaud them for participation, it will not impact the oil-on-deferred-payment deal.

The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
shahzadsharjeel1@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2022

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