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Since 1st March, 1999
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The Games Ethic and Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal By James A. Mangan, Frank Cass, $ 27.50

Sports studies have not yet struck roots in our country. Indians have been remarkably oblivious to an activity which engages almost every individual all over the world.

What exactly is sport all about' We have never bothered to answer the question. In India, sport has always been rated as a physical activity and for that reason an inferior endeavour that is best avoided. We have never tried to fathom the psychology of sport. Nor the reason why it attracts every child. Even schools and colleges have generally discouraged sport. As academic excellence promised lucrative job opportunities, the brighter students generally concentrated totally on academics at the cost of sporting activities, where there was little scope of earning a proper living.

Sport as a profession came very low in the priority list of the educated elite. As for our policymakers, sport never quite figured in their minds. Even now the government budget for sport is negligible.

Yet had our leaders kept their ears and eyes open, they would have observed that our colonial masters themselves had laid great emphasis on sport in their own country. Sport in Britain has enjoyed a very high status, especially in the last 300 years. In British schools, sportsmen were the heroes not the academically brilliant. Sport was seen to foster a healthy body and an alert mind. Even the best of universities like Oxford and Cambridge gave sportsmen an elevated status.

As Britain ventured out with its imperialistic ambitions, it was the sportsmen-soldiers and the sportsmen-missionaries who made the most substantial and concrete contributions. In this well-researched book, James Mangan very adroitly highlights the link between sportsmen and imperialism in relation to 18th- and 19th century-Britain.

The author has concentrated primarily on the influence of the missionaries who travelled to far-off places with the Bible in hand. He has skillfully revealed that more than the Bible, it was the teaching of sports like cricket and football that initially attracted the attention of the local populace in the colonies.

The British mostly interacted with upper class Indians and were restricted to the major cities and towns. They hardly had the opportunity to mix with tribals and the rural people. As sport was not a high priority with the Indian elite, the British probably thought India had little interest in sport. This was, however, a grossly unfair assessment. Sports like gymnastics, archery, swimming, running, boat-racing, wrestling, guli-danda were very popular among Indians, especially in the villages. Richer Indians were lazy and not inclined to spend time and effort on any activity that called for physical exertion.

However, when Mangan raises the issue of football being introduced to Kashmir by a Christian preacher, he does not realize that football was already being played in other provinces of India since the 1880s, when British soldiers had introduced the game to the subcontinent. It is quite likely that a preacher had taken the initiative to teach football to the princes of the royal families of Kashmir while they were at a British-run school. But Kashmir cannot be considered a representative sample of the Indian sport scene.

The book is otherwise an excellent study of the influence of sport in British society, a must read for all those keen on sport and its wide and significant ramifications.

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