When athletes speak up

International athletes have a powerful voice both in their countries and across the world. Some use it for the greater good of their people, or at least to bring international focus to bear upon troubles at home.

Making a point: Former Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene and other past and present cricketers have commented on the state of economic and political chaos in their country.   -  AP

This might be difficult to believe when television executives, sponsors, politicians and commercial interests everywhere seem to be running sports — but the fact remains that without sportspersons, there is no sport.

International athletes have a powerful voice both in their countries and across the world. Some use it for the greater good of their people, or at least to bring international focus to bear upon troubles at home. Many, perhaps the majority, use it for self-aggrandisement and for the greater glory of their individual selves.

That is why it comes as a surprise when sportsmen (and women) speak up. The temptation (arising from commercial considerations as much as from ignorance) is to say, “I am a sportsperson. I don’t understand politics. In any case, sports and politics do not mix.” This excuse is not true or even credible, but it is convenient.

READ: When it is all wrists, it is all grace

When I asked Colin Cowdrey in South Africa what he felt about the cages where Blacks watched cricket from when he toured with England to that apartheid country, he gave me the cliched answer: “We came to play cricket.” The implication was that human suffering did not matter.

When Formula One drivers spoke up about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and expressed concern about having the Saudi Grand Prix on the calendar, they acknowledged that sportsmen are human beings first. When Sri Lankan cricketers past and present comment on the state of economic and political chaos in their country, it brings politics to the sports sections of the media, to remind us that all human activities can be seen as a continuum. And anything can have a political impact.

“We can see that sport has undergone a very swift change over the last few years,” the head of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, Alex Wurz, has said. “It really came to the surface with the issue of racism and with Black Lives Matter. In the last two or three years those young people have come to the position that they should have an opinion and that they should also express their opinions and deal with their responsibility.”

In India, even the much-feted cricketers hesitate.

Will any Indian cricketer ever put out a statement about his country that reads (in part): “Now, they (the Sri Lankans) have found even their most fundamental rights suppressed, in an effort to quell their voices. But when 22 million voices rise as one, it cannot be ignored. The people of Sri Lanka deserve to be heard.” This was what Bhanuka Rajapaksa said on social media. He is a current player, as is Wanindu Hasaranga who also made a statement. Others did so too: Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga, Muthiah Muralitharan.

READ: Of unwritten books

“The government cannot ignore the needs of the people who have every right to protest. Detaining people who do is not acceptable and I am very proud of the brave Sri Lankan lawyers who rushed to their defence,” Mahela wrote in an Instagram post.

There are lessons here for both Indian sportsmen and Indian politicians.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :