What’s behind the outrage over Pakistani hockey players’ rudeness towards spectators
Respect is earned and not demanded. While the Pakistani hockey players might have been stupid to remove their T-shirts and make obscene gestures after their win over India in the Champions Trophy semi-final, it might help to pause and wonder why they would do this. Pakistani newspapers say that the crowd was catcalling them. Hockey India denies this, but, knowing as we do the spirit of war with which sports fans approach India-Pakistan matches, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Recollect the time that Inzamam ul Haq, as he stood fielding, was taunted with repeated shouts of ‘Aloo Aloo’, a reference to his large lazy body in a 1997 One Day match against India. And his patience finally snapped and he charged at one of those who had been badgering him. Also recollect the time when Sourav Ganguly, exactly like the Pakistani hockey players, removed his shirt and, bare-chested, started swinging it around from the balcony at Lord’s in 2002 after India beat England in the Natwest Series. In a column for NDTV Sports a decade later, he would write: ‘When I look back now, two things stand out. First, the atmosphere at Lord’s that day. To say that it was electric would be an understatement. That may have inspired me to do the ‘shirt act’ on the balcony after victory was attained, but I would still say it was just an instinctive, spur-of-the-moment act.’
No one asked for an apology from Ganguly or blackmailed the BCCI into banning him for a match. That is because most people understand that in moments of hard-fought victory, sportsmen can get swept away by elation. If they remove their shirts or make obscene gestures, it just shows their lack of magnanimity and cheapens them. Also, if you have won, rubbing your opponent’s nose in is a right that accrues to you. Those who are victim to such behaviour must go by the age-old wisdom of working hard and defeating them the next time they meet.
But our reaction seems to be to get revenge for this supposed act of humiliation by railing and threatening until the Pakistanis see no point in carrying a petty squabble forever and give in to a token show of contrition and punishment. If you look at the Pakistani newspapers, it is surprising how little anger they show at some of their players being suspended after arm twisting by Hockey India. And that is partly because they recognise that their players were remiss in sportsmanship but also because in victory, such pettiness is no longer important.
Since there is a context for everything, do also note that this is the first tournament we are playing after former national hockey coach Terry Walsh, who led the team to some sterling victories, including the Asian Games gold in October, did not have his contract renewed. And the man who hounded him out, Hockey India chief Narinder Batra, would have been in some discomfort to explain this defeat. Batra must be a pious man, because the gods sure came to his aid when the Pakistanis did what they did. No one seems to remember that India was the losing side.