How many of us can watch the IPL without revulsion and guilt? Revulsion, at the insensitivity of continuing with a tournament amidst the pain and suffering in the country. And guilt at contributing, in whatever measure, to its profits by watching it on television.
It is easy to confuse IPL with sports, but it is in fact a highly leveraged television serial ideal for selling products where people happen to play a version of a popular game. And television is unlikely to put its golden goose to sleep. There is another month to go — a month when there will be more cases, more deaths and greater anxiety, all matched by the triumphalism and crassness of the tournament being played in a bubble — in more senses than one. What price the 78-metre six or the fast yorker that hits middle stump when around you people are dying in horrific ways and hope is being sucked out of so many lives?
Sport is essentially a meaningless activity which we infuse with significance in normal times. Its artificiality allows us to pour into it the highest qualities we aspire to as a human beings: compassion, honesty, fairmindedness, kindness, respect, empathy, charity, everything that elevates us. But when it displays instead selfishness, indifference, and a lack of concern for the suffering of others, then it is no longer sport, but something that diminishes us.
Public celebration (admittedly in near-empty stadiums), pointless statistics and excited commentary make it all so surreal. Even the ‘official’ figures of the dead and suffering in India are frightening. Over a million people are affected every three days. These are now widely believed to be grossly under-counted. To adapt what Bob Dylan said all those years ago: How many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died?
Hospitals are overcrowded, crematoriums too, there is a national medical emergency, yet ‘maximums’ are being hit on the cricket fields. There is something repugnant about this.
Teams have arrived in the Capital — surely someone noticed during the drive from the airport that things aren’t normal? That the smoke rising in the distance is not announcing the election of a new pontiff, but the desperation of citizens?
The yea-sayers will insist the IPL is a distraction in troubled times. Yes it is a distraction — from the ineptitude of the authorities who hope that if they close their eyes long enough, the situation will get better. In any case, neither the three-and-a-half lakh people who contract the virus daily nor their struggling families are likely to be interested how many deliveries Virat Kohli took over his latest fifty. Football, said the coach Bill Shankly, is not a matter of life and death, it is more serious. The IPL sees itself as more serious too.
A friend sent me this prediction recently: “After playing on and being absolutely silent through the suffering, once the IPL is done, the players and managements will talk of how their heart bleeds and how they will now generously open their purses, via a collective cheque handed over to PM and his fund by Ganguly (since Jay Shah will be too obvious), the pictures being discussed for hours on end in sections of the media, followed by tweets from Sachin, Virat, et al.”
The Australian Pat Cummins became the first player known to make a donation, with 50,000 dollars towards oxygen supplies to hospitals in India. “I encourage my fellow IPL players to contribute,” he tweeted. It will be interesting to see how many will.
Its own insurance
Some players, most recently India’s R. Ashwin, have pulled out, citing personal reasons. The Board of Control for Cricket in India does not see the IPL as a mere cricket tournament. It is a weapon to hold over the heads of players and other cricket boards. Displease the BCCI and there goes your income for the cricketing year! However much individual boards might like to recall their players during the crisis, it is unlikely any of them will do so. The players are only too aware which side their bread is buttered on, and grateful they can earn significant amounts of money when many avenues have dried up. The IPL is its own insurance.
Perhaps if players like Kohli and Rohit Sharma decided to withdraw, there might be a cascading effect. But not everyone would want to take on the BCCI, so perhaps not.
The IPL has its place in the scheme of things. In normal times, you have the option of turning off the TV if you don’t fancy it. But it’s different now. Turning off the TV will not turn off the feeling of the inappropriateness of its rude health and larger-than-life images being beamed across homes in India when the country is struggling with both health and life.