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A true citizen of the world

August 07, 2012

THE lithe Asian style that was once predominantly associated with the organic and original hockey pitch is after all alive and showing despite all Western hurdles in the way.

Since the days Naseer Bunda befuddled opponents barefoot, Pakistanis have dribbled past immigration counters to infiltrate deep inside foreign territory, making it quite their own. This Pakistani salting of Mother Earth manifests itself variously. One of its benefits is that while some of us Pakistanis set out to compete with and conquer none, we can never possibly lose an Olympics.

How can we lose when we have our very own Aryan proudly waving the Union Jack and our Hadi praying for Michael Phelps, an American like him but unlike his Pakistani parents, to set a new games record? There are a few other nephews wooing the Russians from their home in Moscow. From Ukraine to Nigeria to the United Arab Emirates to Malaysia and back to Europe, the Olympics are such a family affair. The origins aside, there will always be a win to celebrate with your close ones — if you so desire and should winning be absolutely necessary.

Sport allows the unpredictable in people to come out loudly. Simple, instinctual, making free if not always fair and transparent personal choices … until the group takes over to rake up common logic beneath personal likes and dislikes. The national then must be adhered to and camps created not on the basis of sporting merit but on the basis of who we want to succeed and why.

Just as the athletes compete with each other in a stadium, no less fascinating are the theories that distinguish one sportsman or a sporting outfit from another. One basic theory requires you to back the local or national representative. This is more easily understood if it is not ever-binding. Many other theories in which the fans justify their favourites are fascinating, especially because while a liking is instant the preceding reasoning has to be thought out.

As collective reasoning goes, there was a time when, beyond hockey, ‘our groups’ score at an Olympics was determined by the success of countries and people we ideologically aligned ourselves with. Until then, ‘our own people’ had not quite been occupying the foreign lands long enough for them to be waving flags other than Pakistan’s and providing the desirous among us the alternative winners via our expanding diaspora — forging an ‘international’ of their own.

Back then the Muslim countries winning a surprise medal excited us, as they still do. All that public indulgence in sportsman’s spirit apart, it was political ideology and tension that sport had originally sought to gloss over or provide a comparatively less dangerous outlet for routinely informed choices.

The Eastern Bloc taking on the arrogant Western world with their smug, workmanlike performances would catch the fancy. The Asians, bar the Indians, would be bucked up in their fight against the developed world. The alternative worked at a distance from us but it worked with a purpose that we shared. It prevented our shoulders from dropping even on occasions when it did not avenge us outright.

That old camp feeling has subsided and where reasons for sporting likes and dislikes cannot be easily assigned, it is difficult as it has ever been to identify factors behind personal sporting heroes. Stats? Skill? Style? Region? Religion? Friendship? I find it difficult to figure this one out, although I am more inclined to go with style over effectiveness.

The first choice is always the underdog, I agree. As a young boy, my instincts were boosted by a hockey game between the privileged Islamabad Club side and a bunch of unruly boys having to make do with shabby, incomplete playing kits. The hockey ground next to the Lal Masjid that day resonated with chants that had only one objective: the ever-denied somehow getting the better of the privileged, once.

I am yet to fully come to terms with my biases since I definitely know that this underdog formula was to be applied sparingly to suit my sporting priorities that I had to defend and defend all over again in the club with a bias for standard logic. When Sri Lanka played Australia in the 1995 Cricket World Cup finals in Lahore, for reasons I cannot comprehend to this day, I was the odd man out supporting Australia — who were by no means the underdogs. Pestered, the only explanation I could offer was that I owed it to the ‘best’ side. This wasn’t my reason. I still don’t know what my reasons were.

Just like that, in this age of the celebrated people-to-people contacts, I feel it is my connection within that has finally helped me overcome my old anti-India sentiment on the ground. No matter how much I try to wake up the dormant patriot inside me, I am no more the emotional sports enthusiast who would be consoled by an Indian defeat following a Pakistani loss. I cannot quite help it. I cannot quite celebrate a defeat anymore. I have instead followed the path of the grown-up men who had once made no sense to me; they would rise above national boundaries to actually not be angry over an Indian victory.

And I have no intention to punish myself for not quite jumping with joy at each of these Chinese victories in London right now. It appears that deep inside I am a tad wary of monopolies — past, present and future — and of monotone and perfection, and I would be lying if I say that I have been unaffected by the glamorous West and the excitement it creates wherever it goes.

For my liking there is just too much method in the victories of these ‘dominating’ countries, whatever colours they may be wearing. This appears so much like the collective’s method to justify the bias in the selection of a sporting icon.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.