Playing for Corporates

Image courtesy: wiki optimy

By Asif Husain

Sporting fever has gripped the whole world. All year round we have world cups and tournaments taking place and a good number of people hooked to their TV boxes or mobiles. Sports men and women are idolised by many children. Sports is a huge industry and there are many stakeholders. The sporting culture of a nation tells us the mental framework of a society.

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 Sporting activity  and  culture have had a long journey. Today sports as before has become an important aspect of life.Governments all over the world have A ministry for  the development and promotion of sports. Sporting activity has received special attention in the last few decades in India.

The sporting activity in the early history were more oriented towards sports that would enable and assist developing war skills. Swimmimg,horse riding, archery wrestling and few others are the remnants of the past era. Today  few of these sports are not as common as cricket and football.

The digital era has introduced online gaming culture which has badly affected the sporting culture among urban children and young adults. Many counsellors have expressed their concern and are worried about the lack physical activity among present day children.

The 7th Annual School Health and Fitness Study 2016, conducted by the EduSports across 326 schools in 86 cities, found out that of the 1.5 lakh students, 34-39 per cent students have low BMI condition.

 “The school-going child has a developing body and it requires proper diet and a good amount of time and space to play,” remarked Saumil Majmudar, CEO and Co-founder of EduSports, as reported in The Indian Express.One child in every three was found unable to sprint as they could have at their age.(India Today)

In the fast changing life style and  shrinking spaces in present day residential colonies sporting activity has taken a bad hit. Few decades ago there were enough spaces available for children to play in the open areas that were  available. Increased traffic on roads has also reduced  cycling culture. Today one has to live in an area blessed with a sports ground to be able to fulfill his basic sporting activity for the day. It is mostly true that  generally only a  certain  area in a  taluka  or a district or even  a city is blessed with a sports ground. Urban development authorities have not  paid any attention to the  basic sporting requirements.

This has greatly affected the uniform development of sporting culture across different strata of the society. Games like badminton, tennis, squash,swimming,horse riding and archery to name  a few are beyond the reach of  most  children.

Childhood ,adolescent and young adulthood age are ages of enthusiasm, exploration and energy. Appropriate sporting activity can channelize their energy for their self development and physical strength. Unfortunately lack of opportunities for channelising this youthful energy has led to diversion of the available time towards unproductive and substance abuse. Sporting activity keeps the teenager and young adult  occupied in his leisure time. Hence it is important that we create spaces for basic sporting activity.

The latest trend of huge stadiums for corporate sponsored tournaments has led to absence of casual sporting activity.

This bring us to the need to study the influence of corporate bodies in converting sporting activity into a lucrative business option. Big corporate without investing in sporting infrastructure have been able to change the nature of our approach to sports. Today sports as physical activity for physical development and good health has disappeared and material oriented sporting careers has got a tremendous boost. The popularity of sports like cricket and football has created larger then life sporting heroes. The corporates have seized the opportunity and used such sporting heroes as their brand ambassadors.  So we often find our sporting heroes endorsing various brands. Two sporting heroes who advertise for two different brands of  alcohol in India we’re in news for the wrong reasons.

In an advertisement of a brand that Dhoni endorses was making fun of Harbhajan  so his mother was offended. And the Guardian reported this offence taken by his mother . “.Harbhajan Singh’s mother demands immediate withdrawal of TV ad featuring Mahendra Singh Dhoni, saying it insults her son” And the same article says ,”an advert for Royal Stag Mega Cricket equipment showed Harbhajan, a Sikh, at a ball-bearing factory in the Punjab with his papaji (father). The ad ends with the Royal Stag whisky slogan: “It’s your life, make it large.” Sadly the parents were not offended that their son was promoting an alcohol brand.

The money involved is so lucrative that most sporting heroes have readily accepted surrogate advertisements for alcohol companies and other beverages. The scantily clad cheer girls in the sidelines  reminds one of the sexual objectification of women and yet not many feminist have found any issues with it. An article published in daily Sabah  in 2018 reports ,” When the most glamorous sport in the world, Formula One, decided to ban the use of beautiful models at their events starting with the Australian Grand Prix in March earlier this year, the hope was that other sports would follow suit”.

Judging by the increasing use of nubile young girls as cheerleaders at international rugby and cricket events, just to use two examples of several others, this is clearly not the case.

Last month for instance, they were out in force at the T20 Cricket final of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Very  few sporting personalities can be introduced as idols for young children because of their on -field and off-field behaviour.  The material orientation of sports has led to the diminishing number of sports personalities who stand up for justice except a few. The likes of sporting legend Muhammad Ali are rare today. Any opinion contrary to the ruling dispensation by the sporting icons  can lead to loss of contracts.

Likes of Mohammed Ali used to be role models earlier
The change is sporting culture from casual and fun sports  to extreme competitive and career   sports  has seriously affected our society. Coaches in Ireland who train children have faced complaints from parents  and it was reported in Irish times in the  following words“Over-competition in sport is problematic for children’s mental health. Some competition is fine to keep them focused, but too much is a problem. It’s bad for the less athletic kids because they feel bad [or feel] they may be letting the team down, and rejected if they are dropped. But it’s also a problem for the high-achievers who can become anxious about their performance.
“To make the most of the enduring mental health benefits from sport, it should be about enjoyment and passion, physical exercise, learning new skills, socialising, and working together at shared tasks.
Spectator sports has changed the economics of sports. Today sporting boards have become the  focus of corruption scandals and shady dealings.
Take the excerpts from the article  Fighting sports corruption in India: A review of the National Sports Ethics Commission Bill 2016 by Nandan Kamath
 “The brand value of the IPL was estimated to be US$3.5 billion in 2015 by American Appraisal, a Division of Duff & Phelps. According to the BCCI, the 2015 IPL season contributed Rs.1,150 crore (~US$ 170 million) to the gross domestic product of the Indian economy.

The increase in private investment in sport, combined with the resulting appreciation of the importance of public trust in authenticity of results, has brought the issue of participant-integrity to the forefront of legal discourse. Indian sport is no stranger to challenges of integrity. Match fixing, event manipulation and illegal betting have shaken the country’s primary sport, cricket, more than once in the last two decades. Combine the issue of fixing with age fraud, doping and sexual harassment and we have a quartet of familiar faces that are making their presence felt not only nationally but also internationally”

The competitive nature has introduced  the culture of doping. Hardly any sports is free of doping scandals. The sportstar reported ” Rising cases of doping by athletes, shockingly by even juniors in the Khelo India Games, has once again put the focus back on this menace. The sports fraternity is appalled at the cases where athletes have been assisted by coaches in order to enhance their performance by using banned drugs.”

The lucrative advertisement  contracts and the need to be on top has forced many to be dishonest in sports.
Diminishing sporting spirit and dishonesty at all levels of sporting activity among players and sporting institutions and organisations have unfortunately stained the  Indian sports  scenario.  These trends are a cause to worry. Behind the glamour of award functions and medals tally is hid a plethora of issues. Scratch the surface to know the underbelly of sporting world.
The Impact of  the  advertisement contract clause  especially of female where their choice of outfit is strictly monitored to keep it “appealing “to the audience has adverse effect on young girls who want to pursue sports but  the rigid rules of women’s clothing for sports debars any girl who desires to avoid wearing scanty clothes. Himani Kamra, a Delhi University graduate, who wants people to focus on the sport and the talent of the player rather than on applying social corrective measures on their sports attire. When asked if she agreed with the recently issued guidelines by LPGA, here’s what she had to say, “Well, of course, I don’t agree with it. They can wear whatever they want, they are there (on the field) to play, to showcase their talent, to utilize their skills in sports then why does it matter if they wear a short skirt or track pants? It’s ridiculous and totally unnecessary.”
National level medalist, Gurmanprit Kaur says, “Nobody likes to show their skin or compete in how short a dress they can wear. It is just what gives them confidence and what they feel comfortable in. They wear while playing to put their best foot forward.”(Shethepeople. TV)

When the objective of sporting activity is now  to  earn profits the rigidity of the rules and regulations has increased with many sporting boards specifying a unnatural  clothing code and refusing   to be accomadating of the choice of the women either way.  Many families  who value dignity of appearance refuse to encourage sports among girls for schools too demand to follow the unreasonable dress code. Many schools and clubs  refuse  students the opportunity to compete in sporting events who ask for a modest clothing to play. One of the  key finding of a survey conducted by  Youth Sports Trust in UK called  Girls Active Survey  was that girls did not like to be watched at while playing. The physical and emotional  nature of men and women differ  but the recent push for extreme physical sports among women will soon have it’s ramifications and the pressure will adversely affect the lives of young girls and women. Many cases of male coaches abusing young girls have surfaced regularly and alarmingly.

The total takeover of sports by corporates and turning it into a spectator orientated entertainment has been to the liking of the government’s. This has helped to keep the masses pre- occupied with sporting events  and distracted from the real issues facing the governance and they get a public that does not ask the right  questions.

The  authorities and the civil society needs to start an alternate sporting culture. A sporting culture that is free of corporate greed and is  local community oriented. One bright example that comes close is  the community oriented sports practiced in  few villages in Goa. Where each village organises sports activity  and tournaments on occasions ,involving  all the different age groups and sports. Sports should be  encouraged at  all levels   and be free of corporate pressure.

The sports authorities and schools  should invest in creating spaces for affordable sporting activity. The pressure of succeeding at any cost should be divorced from sporting activity. Sports has to be oriented with the greater goals  of life. Hence honesty,truthfulness and human brotherhood needs to promoted. The best example of  defeating racism ,regionalism and hate crimes  is a study by Stanford  University  which states  that after the  famous Egyptian footballer started playing for Liverpool  hate crimes reduced by 19% and online negative comments  against Muslims  reduced by 50%. We need more such sporting heroes and exchange to build bridges of understanding between continents, nations and communities.

Sports  has the potential to unite people but if politicians choose to play political sports in sporting arena then there is much to worry about.

Asif Husain is a Vasco Goa based social activist, attached  with  board of innovative education