FIFA World Cup: Heading to Russia, with love of the game in heart

Let’s hope this World Cup turns out to be a thrilling and exciting one, giving us exciting and wonderful memories to cherish forever.

Football brings out the child in me and it definitely says that Messi, and Argentina, are getting their hands on the trophy this time around.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Football is a beautiful game that inspires and impacts the lives of fans across the world. The bedazzling passes, the skill with the legs, sheer strength and the electrifying atmosphere, especially while watching a match live in the stadium, can get the adrenaline flowing. And the ultimate: a goal scored brings with it a mind-boggling roar.

In India, there are cricket lovers and there are football lovers, and then there are both. There are some for whom football is a pleasure, for others it's addictive; for some, it is relaxing, for others it is the collective high of being with friends and watching it together; and for many, it is the motivation and inspiration they derive from football.

India presents an interesting paradox. We are ranked 97 in the world in the FIFA Football Rankings. Yet, India has legions of diehard football supporters of various clubs and national teams.

You can’t particularly ascribe India’s woes in football to the presence of cricket, the climate or the FIFA ranking system.

In fact, I believe football is not particularly suited to our national psyche. Unlike cricket, which is an individual game in the garb of a team sport, football demands real teamwork – physically, mentally and technically.

We prefer watching the English, Spanish, Italian, and German leagues to the home-grown I-League. Periodic tournaments such as the Euros and the World Cups see us pick sides. We pick depending on which country our favourite player represents and tend to support or identify with that country.

Sometimes we support one main country and two or three more countries, but with much lesser intensity. As an avid follower of Argentina, I am dying to see my 'God', Lionel Messi, in action in this World Cup. Through sheer doggedness, a carefully nurtured piggy bank and coaxing the family, I am heading to Russia to catch a few matches.

Football brings out the child in me and it definitely says that Messi, and Argentina, are getting their hands on the trophy this time around. Imagine my reaction if Argentina and Messi get their reward this year! It will be a no-holds-barred celebration for me.

But, if my 'God' falters, and my favourite nation fails to make the top of the podium, I reckon I will take it in my stride and move on. However, will it be that easy to move on?

Sports psychologists have coined certain terms for supporters or fans who get very deeply involved — essentially, live, breathe and obsess — with a sport/sports of their choice. This phenomenon has been referred to as BIRGing and CORFing.

BIRGing is an acronym for Basking In Reflected Glory, while CORFing stands for Cutting Off Reflected Failure. The concept of BIRGing is rooted in the social identity theory which explains how one’s self-esteem and evaluation can be enhanced by the identification with another person’s success.

One of the keys to BIRGing is that the person trying to receive this glory has done nothing tangible to bring the team’s success (Hirt et al. 1992).

When a person’s public image is threatened, the tendency to BIRG is even stronger, and BIRGing becomes an important impression management technique to counter any threats to self-esteem.

The different levels of commitment that a fan might have towards a team dictate the degree to which the person can distance himself or herself when failure comes. If fans are strongly allied, the social identity theory states that it will be hard for them to distance themselves. Therefore, to not threaten their self-esteem, the fans must attribute the loss to external cues of the situation but not the team itself, like a bad refereeing decision or a brutal tackle.

If fans are not so closely linked, they then engage in the phenomena of CORFing, which is achieved by distancing themselves as far as possible from the losing team. These fans want to avoid any negative evaluations by others in relation to the team that was unsuccessful.

The closer the identification to the team and the degree of commitment by the fan, the greater the risk the fan has of suffering a loss in self-esteem if their team loses.

Let’s hope this World Cup turns out to be a thrilling and exciting one, giving us exciting and wonderful memories to cherish forever. Personally, I hope my brush with live World Cup action will make me a better attacking midfielder for the Hi-Tech Medical College team. Wish you all happy football fever.

Prof Dr Amrit Pattojoshi

Consultant Neuro Psychiatrist

Co-Chair, IPS Task force on LGBT

Editor, Odisha Journal of Psychiatry