The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Raju Mukherji

The entire business of boycotting sports events to make a political statement is immature. It has been tried many times over the years, but has hardly ever achieved anything worthwhile. It is foolish of sportsmen to think of sports as being so very important that it will influence political decisions. They must realize that sports just does not have the power to twist any politicianís arm. A boycott thus often ends up being merely a ploy to gain publicity.

Politicians all over the world make use of the ability of sports to appeal to the masses. Business was late to realize the potential of sports but lately, the corporate sector has begun to extract whatever it can through sponsorship deals. Given the wide media-coverage of sports, the wealthy Page 3 set use it nowadays to gain publicity for themselves. And even academics have jumped on to the bandwagon these days.

But all said and done, itís time we realized that the principal business of sports is to entertain. It cannot be used as a vehicle to combat political ideologies or to overcome economic forces or to withstand cultural changes. Neither can it be a weapon to overcome the cultural, political or economic ills of societies.

Misplaced ideals

Sports, unfortunately, has frequently been appropriated by those with vested interests to further their politics of racial discrimination, colour prejudice and caste consciousness. It has also been exploited to fan economic disparities, communal distinctions and class bias. Because sport generates much passion among its followers, over the years, many nations have tried to use it as a weapon.

It is against this backdrop that the reasons given by England for its refusal to play its world cup preliminary in Harare sounds hollow. If some English players had reservations about visiting Zimbabwe on account of Robert Mugabeís land reform policy, then they should have stayed out of the team-selection process earlier ó after all, the venues of matches were known months in advance.

Itís fine to have lofty moral ideals. But then how consistent are Naseer Hussain and company in their moral scrupulousness' What about the Irish Republican Army in their backyard' What about the inhuman treatment of aborigines in Australia' What about the communal violence in India' What about Pakistan giving refuge to Islamic extremists' Come to think of it, no country is a saint. If English cricketers have no qualms about playing in Australia, India and Pakistan, why then should they put up moral objections when the venue is Zimbabwe or Kenya'

Individual players who refuse to conform to the guidelines of the International Cricket Council to play in Zimbabwe and Kenya should be penalized and barred from ever playing international cricket again.

Futile gestures

Will Englandís refusal to go to Zimbabwe or New Zealandís to Kenya alter the supposedly flawed land-reforms measures in Zimbabwe, or make Kenya any more secure than it is today' Obviously not. Australia and West Indies stayed out of Sri Lanka in the 1999 World Cup. What difference did that make to the situation in Sri Lanka' Professional cricketers and cricket-controlling authorities must learn to take themselves less seriously. They must realize that they are not important enough to change the face of the world. They have to realize that their job is to provide entertainment to the best of their ability ó nothing more.

In this regard, even the decision of the Zimbabwean cricketers, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, to wear black arm-bands to highlight the political turmoil in their homeland rings hollow. Especially when they lost the courage to continue wearing them when the going gets tough. Flower and Olonga must realize that they are professional sportsmen, not political or social activists. Mollycoddled sportsmen have little idea of the extent of sacrifice required of these souls. It would be best if they stuck to their own talents.

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