Does sport need this practice at all?

By playing the national anthem, sportsmen do not become more patriotic; nor will they become less so without it. The same applies to the fans.

Indian and Bangladesh players stand for their national anthems before the start of their cricket World Cup match at Edgbaston in Birmingham.   -  AP

For so long have national anthems been a part of sporting events that we have stopped questioning the practice. For television viewers of events like the World Cup football, and now World Cup cricket, it is a signal to get the drinks and snacks in order, put the cushions in place, and enjoy that moment of intense anticipation just before the event that may or may not match the joy at the end of it. Standing up for a national anthem is farthest from the mind.

It’s not that one disrespects Australia or South Africa or New Zealand, but there are last-minute things to attend to. Likewise with the Indian national anthem, a beautiful, melodic, evocative piece of music — but how many of us stand up in our living rooms for it? Television cameras pick out people yawning or scratching their nose in the stands, while often it becomes clear that not all players are familiar with the words. It can be embarrassing.

But it is not for aesthetic reasons that it ought to be banned from sports events. It makes sense to play the national anthem at military events, at state functions and in diplomatic missions, but that is not a mixture you want to introduce into sports, which has its own issues without having to take on board an aggressive, raving super-nationalism too. Sport does not need to move even closer to the concept of “war minus the shooting” than it already has. Muscle-flexing does not need official approval.

By playing the national anthem, sportsmen do not become more patriotic; nor will they become less so without it. The same applies to the fans.

I might be in a minority here because it is both fashionable and prudent to sound patriotic wherever you are in the world. In the U.S., the national anthem ahead of sports competitions is a platform for political protests. The phrase “taking a knee” became a part of the language after Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem.

Just over half a century ago, the International Olympic Committee nearly did away with the practice of playing the national anthem at the medal ceremony. There was enough support for the idea with the majority voting in favour of the ban. But it needed a two-thirds majority at the general body and failed by just three votes.

The playing of the national anthem before a sporting event might have, in modern times, begun in America in the 19th century. It is now done before every Major League Baseball, basketball, NFL, ice hockey game and at the start of the Indy 500 and Nascar races.

Major tournaments in golf and tennis have, however, succeeded without the national anthem, while Formula One, which is about a commercial competition between car manufacturers, has seen the need for it at the podium ceremony. Michael Schumacher was responsible for the German national anthem being whistled in many Indian homes in his glory days.