Calcutta Derby reflects changing times

At Sunday's game, women spectators were as visible in the stands as men, considered to be the traditional patrons of the game, and as enthusiastic.

By The Editorial Board
  • Published 4.09.18
  • a few seconds read

The Calcutta Derby, which was played on Sunday, is much more than a sporting spectacle. There is a case for viewing this local league game featuring East Bengal and Mohun Bagan as a telling register of both continuity and change. Thousands had turned up to watch the match at the stadium just as in the days of yore. But in a welcome departure of sorts, women spectators made themselves visible on the stands, following the proceedings with as much passion as men, considered to be the traditional patrons of the game. Viewership has changed in other ways as well. Radio and, later, television had functioned as the proverbial technological bridge between viewers and the pitch. But the means of viewership, evidently, are in a flux. A sizeable segment of viewers - especially youngsters - are now amenable to the idea of using emerging technologies to savour the pleasure of watching football. This derby was followed with equal fervour on streaming services. It is pertinent to mention that La Liga would only be available on Facebook for viewers in the subcontinent this year.

The madness surrounding derbies, in India or abroad, remains unchanged. But the globalization of the game along with its attendant perks - state-of-the-art packaging and presentation of matches - offer only a partial explanation for the fanaticism. That is because older, resilient tensions, fuelled by differences in identity, ethnicity and religion, lie at the heart of these fierce competitions that unfold in the sporting arena. Calcutta's transformation into a megalopolis has not been able to snuff out the subterranean rivalry that informs ties shared by the city's original inhabitants with immigrants from the eastern part of Bengal. In Glasgow, the frenzy generated by a match between Rangers and Celtics is attributed to the sectarian faultline that simmers in Scottish culture. Such spirits of antagonism are yet to be exorcized. It can, however, be argued that football plays an instrumental role in channelling malevolent energies into a sporting contest bound by rules.