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Thursday, April 7, 2011

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(Published in on 8 April 2011, retrieved from

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Since the much-touted Men in Blue beat the Sri Lankan cricket team in the final of the World Cup, the deluge of movable and immovable assets that has been coming their way may well have enabled all of them to retire and never have to work again.

The cash awards, tax breaks, cars, houses and land that have been bestowed on the squad by various governments across the country make one wonder whether one lives in a democracy or a regular old-fashioned kingdom where the ruler’s favoured bards are rewarded from the treasury, which, of course, comprises tithes collected from the residents of the land.

I’ve been pondering two points over the past couple of days – one, if the government can afford to throw jewels at fourteen rich men, and write off taxes for an international sporting body, why did the Union Budget contain such measly amendments to the tax slab? And next, what have these men done to be treated as national heroes?

Should patriotism really be confused with performance on a sporting field? The government’s ‘cricket diplomacy’ antics and Gautam Gambhir’s dramatic dedication of the World Cup to the victims of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack may well lead one to think there is a direct correlation between cricket and national security.

But aren’t we forgetting that we’re talking about a game that lasts about seven hours and largely involves fifteen men running about on a field after one of them hits a piece of leather with a piece of wood?

There’s a separate debate on the incongruence between the treatment given to our cricketers, and our other sportsmen, and a more engaging one, perhaps, on the extent to which the game is fixed. Since it was decided that the 2015 edition of the tournament would only comprise ten teams, jokes have been passing around about the logistical difficulty of fixing a championship that has fourteen teams.

However, my concern is the incongruence between the treatment of a bunch of sportsmen, who make most of their money from endorsements, and the actual patriots who risk their lives for the country.

When flats intended for war widows and veterans are being divided up among bureaucrats and politicians, disabled soldiers are fighting for an allowance and disillusioned battle heroes are returning their gallantry medals, the country is busy distributing honorary military ranks to Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Even as these cricketers accept their titles and attend felicitations, what are they giving back? Has any of them made a contribution to the War Veterans’ Fund, or given away the money they could well do without for a worthy cause?

While state governments sign proposals into law, freeing cricketers from ever paying property tax, and increase toll fares to make up the deficit, does it occur to any of these beneficiaries to sponsor a hospital, school or even road?

One may well argue that the money is well-deserved, and that the receiver is free to do what he wants with it. But if these men are truly to be regarded as national heroes, shouldn’t their consciences remind them of where this money comes from?

At a time when the corruption in politics has made thirteen digit numbers commonplace, and the public is searching for reassurance of goodwill, don’t these sportsmen realise that giving back the funds to be put into a definite object, which will receive tremendous media coverage in the post-cup hysteria, will actually ensure that the people whose adulation has put them on a pedestal benefit too?

And now, the cry for Sachin Tendulkar to be given the Bharat Ratna award has started up with renewed vigour. The oh-so-modest, unassuming, unselfish Sachin, for whose Ferrari a law was nearly amended, is indeed a brilliant batsman, and a cricketing icon. But are his records enough for him to receive India’s highest civilian honour?

Take a look at the list of awardees, and except for those from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, you’ll see that every other recipient has been given the title for an entire lifetime of work, after consideration of every single contribution they made to their field. In fact, the architect of our Constitution was awarded the Bharat Ratna more than thirty years after his death. Do we believe Tendulkar has really finished contributing everything he can to the game?

It’s all very well to exult over a sporting achievement. But shouldn’t the country be more judicious in spending public money? And shouldn’t the beneficiaries pause to think about whether they truly deserve this? Most importantly, shouldn’t we remember that these men are paid handsome salaries to play a game, and extravagant amounts to appear on television, before we treat them like neglected national heroes?


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