Current players should be seen and not heard

It is unfair to expect a Kohli or a Rohit Sharma or a Sunil Chetri to speak up when the country’s opposition leaders are shy about coming out strongly against a government move.

 

When India refused to play the Davis Cup final against South Africa in 1974 owing to that country’s apartheid policy, one man was upset. That was Vijay Amritraj, an intelligent, worldly-wise, much-travelled, articulate tennis player who saw the withdrawal from a purely sporting perspective.

“It is very hard to rationalize the larger picture when childhood dreams are at stake,” Vijay wrote in his autobiography, adding, however: “It was not that we were insensitive to the apartheid problem… I felt we had a great chance to win the Cup and that one should weigh the psychological advantages of that against any damage we might do to the anti-apartheid movement.”

He admitted later, “It was a heart-breaker, but there were millions in South Africa who had a lot more to worry about.” Fourteen years after that missed final, Vijay spoke at the United Nationss Special Committee Against Apartheid.

One thing I held against Sachin Tendulkar was that he never took a stand on any major issues of the day. Political, one can understand, but in his case, he didn’t express an opinion on matters cricketing either.

So it was a surprise when Virat Kohli spoke up in favour of demonetisation a couple of years ago, calling it the greatest political move in the country’s history. We had breakfast together soon after that, and I mentioned casually that perhaps it might have been unwise to make a statement like that, and perhaps he should follow Tendulkar’s example and keep out of domestic politics.

Kohli came back with, “But that’s what I believe.”

Kohli is an outspoken young man with strong beliefs, but he has become more discreet and perhaps understood the impact of what he might say outside his area of speciality.

Should we expect our sportsmen to make statements that may or may not be misguided, would certainly lead to a backlash and possibly take the focus away from what was said to who supported it?

It is unfair to expect a Kohli or a Rohit Sharma or a Sunil Chetri to speak up when the country’s opposition leaders are shy about coming out strongly against a government move. The cricketers who have spoken up against the Jamia Millia atrocities like Irfan Pathan and Akash Chopra are no longer active players, so that might be a useful rule to follow. Current players should be seen and not heard.

Personally, I do not hold it against the players for not jumping into the fray, although my respect for a player would go up manifold if someone did because they have a lot to lose.

We don’t expect bankers and scientists and teachers and architects to call out political injustices, so why should sportsmen be treated differently? Yet, the same bankers and scientists and others who do speak up earn our respect for we know how vindictive governments trying to impose their will on people can get.

We are entitled to everybody’s opinion, but we ought to understand when we don’t get it from everyone.