Play it again, scam

Play It Again, Scam
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 8

Our favourite sport – corruption – has once again taken centre-stage. Instead of kicking ball, there is talk of kickbacks. Had there been no whistle-blower, no one would know about the expensive pots and pans. We are still giving those embroiled in the Commonwealth Games controversies airtime to clear the air.

Is there a reason for it? Is it about national pride? Or is it one more smart strategy where the media that exposes the scandal cannot afford to miss out on the goodies of advertisements as well as telecast rights and sound bytes?

A couple of days ago there were huge advertisements in the newspapers titled ‘Commonwealth Games Emotional Appeal’. It was signed by ‘A Humble Citizen’, the head of the Sahara Group, Subrata Roy. I could well imagine how many Indians reading it must have had tears brimming over.

India has hosted several events in the past, sporting or otherwise. Not all have gone off without glitches. Even without the controversy over underhand deals, we are not quite prepared. Therefore, the manner in which the issue is being raised by a group of elite citizens has little to do with ‘pride’. What is there to be proud about hosting the games? It is done by rotation and whoever bids, gets to do so. It isn’t that the whole world is looking at us with sudden “respect and hope” and it most certainly has nothing to do with “our recent economic growth”.

This is the fantasy of the millionaires. The economic growth has not reached most citizens. In fact, humble sportspersons have to make do with filthy hostel rooms, inadequate practice, slimy food and sexual harassment. Is this our “rich heritage”?

The media has indeed given a great deal of time and space to the scams but that too is to grab eyeballs. Mr. Roy writes, “Due to this continuous and extensively negative coverage, we are creating a withdrawal feeling in thousands of organizers, 23000 volunteers, who are feeling totally demoralized and dejected. This would totally mar the successful conduct of the Commonwealth Games and give a bad image to our beloved country for all times to come.”

While sports are an important part of building the morale of teams and individual players, we have the hierarchy of different games and different sportspersons in place. It is this class system that gives us a bad name for we may flaunt the heroes in our endorsements, but the world is interested in what it will get out of it.

Why the world, is it not true that certain individuals, including Mr. Roy, are directly involved in sports franchises and bidding for foreign ones and could therefore be more concerned about their own image and well-being? Does Mr. Roy not have a stake in IPL and is he not eyeing Liverpool?

Unfortunately, the emotional appeal can have a counter-negative rather than a positive effect on the gullible middle-class that is made to believe that their nationalism rides on hosting a sporting event. It is grandiose efforts that make us believe we are global citizens. Indians are supposed to wake up to their Indianness when foreign dignitaries visit and miraculously roads are cleaned, plants dot the cavalcade location, buildings get a fresh coat of paint, linen is laundered and even the poor are dressed in colourful gear to give them a taste of our heritage.

China put out all stops for the Olympics not because it wanted to impress the world, but because it wanted to assert its power. We still suffer from a slave mentality. What will they think of us, is always a bother. There is never any consideration as to what we think of ourselves and how we treat those with less than what we have.

There have been several scandals before too, including match-fixing deals and doping. No emotional appeal was made then.

It is rather shocking that Mr. Roy feels “the culprits most definitely need to be punished with all their misdeeds thoroughly investigated and all sorts of checks and audits duly conducted by going deep into the matters related to purchase, negotiations & payments etc. But if should all be done after our country's greatest ever sporting event is over. Of course, all the culprits should be severely punished, thereafter”.

This is a classic way of pushing the dirt under the carpet. These culprits will be officially in charge of welcoming visitors, especially dignitaries. They will be the visible face of India, all over the international media. If we know from experience, they will be in the front rows, their relatives, friends and business interest groups will get VIP passes and sit in VIP enclaves.

If, as is suggested, we can still manage to make a success of the games, then there will not be many people to question them. For, it is these mavens who will flash it as a badge of their achievement. It is interesting that in this whole advertised public letter there is just one reference to the players who will be on the field. Clearly, they matter little.

Emotions ride high on the hot air of national pride and these days such pride is inexorably linked with those who can afford cheer-leaders. Humble citizens don’t come cheap.

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This is the image of the ad:

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