As I type this post, there are a billion and a few people hunched over the tv sets, radios, and computers, watching and listening to the India versus Pakistan World Cup semi-final match, in Mohali. A few lucky thousands are actually at the ground, no doubt waving flags and banners, shouting slogans, singing songs, and cheering what is easily the most anticipated match of the tournament so far, a clash between not just two sides, but two nations with a long, chequered history between them, both on the field and off.
The build up to the match has been huge, and though I do not meet any Indians or Pakistanis at work, my social networks are buzzing with all the taunts and barbs going back and forth. Yet, out of the smoke and gunfire, I noticed an interesting trend where one or two Indians were supporting Pakistan, the 'dreaded enemy'.
This naturally drew the ire of many Indian supporters, who either a) threatened bodily harm to said offender b) labelled him/her a traitor or c) attempted to change their mind.. by threatening bodily harm to them. It was an interesting exchange, as some either had no reason for supporting the boys from across the border, while others simply thought they were a better team, and still others didn't want people being tied to their TV sets on a Saturday night.
I found all this rather amusing, because being a Sri Lankan, we don't have any real hardcore, in-the-blood-and-genes type rivalries to speak of. The closest we have is against Australia, but then who doesn't hate the Australian team and want to beat them at every chance? If you have been following fellow Sri Lankan blogger Pseudorandom's blogs and/or tweets, you will have read her rather well-documented story of dealing with criticism for cheering for both England and Sri Lanka when they played each other in the quarter finals. I don't necessarily agree with it all, but while hers is definitely a rather unique case, I think she makes one or two valid points.
Patriotism is a term that we love to use these days, and we throw it around loosely without really understanding what it means. When exactly does it apply?
When it comes to almost any sport, there is a lot of freedom of choice. Take for example, if I were to support Manchester City, Arsenal or Newcastle, no one could really argue against it. It's my inalienable right to support whoever I choose to, for whatever reasons I choose. I could support the Lakers because they have hot cheerleaders, or I could support the Red Sox because I like their name.
But when it comes to teams representing their country, do we really have that much of a choice? When I see anyone wearing the Sri Lankan colours, am I really able to say "Well, this other person is a better player, so I'll support that country instead"? When a team or player says they are playing for their country, do the countrymen have an option to say "well we didn't ask you to"? If we are allowed to choose who we support when it comes to national sport, do the competitors get to choose which country they'd like to represent?
Of course, these are all my personal views, and I cannot fathom all the many individual reasons that people may have for not supporting their national team. Sometimes its as simple as "I don't like the sport, so I don't really care". But while I believe 'patriotism' is not a term that should be associated with national sport, and that at the end of the day, it's still just a game, perhaps we need to re-evaluate what it means to "play for one's country", instead of simply being a fair-weather fan when it suits us. Or filling up stadiums just because the other team is 'the enemy'.