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When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Room For Patriotism In Sport

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'.


PseudoRandom said...

I think patriotism is only natural in sport because we want our people to excel at whatever they attempt. You do get a similar scenario in football actually...e.g. an Everton fan would probably never support Liverpool, same with City/Utd. and Rangers/Celtic, to name a few.

Rivalry in sport can make for an excellent atmosphere and good banter...even in cases of 'blended heritage' such as my own (which aren't that rare actually - e.g. every time the boatrace comes around, those who have done degrees at Cambridge and Oxford - very common - get stick from both sides). But banter should be in good nature...and a fair number of sub-continental cricket fans seem to take everything a bit too far.

T said...

I think those at the receiving end of it may also take it too far. I have a friend who is SL/Bangladeshi and he always gets some friendly ribbing when matches come around, and he always takes it in good spirit. As far as I can see, you don't need to justify your choice to anyone, so why bother. Smile and walk away.

As for patriotism, it's a stupid concept the way we try to interpret it these days, and applied to sports.. well there's just no connection. You support the country you want, the one you feel deserves it more, the one you feel a stronger connection for.. who cares. The immigrant, cross cultural thing is not new, and is more prolific now because of people going abroad for their studies and work. If there is a choice, make it and let the others make theirs. The game will go on regardless.

Danny said...

You like the Red Sox because they have a cool name? Pfffttt. :P

When it comes to clubs, particularly foreign, we are at liberty to choose who we want because we are detached from that part of the world. Try finding someone born and bred in say, Los Angeles, who is not either Dodges or Angels fan.

Either way, I agree with you. There would be no choice when it comes to national teams. But I feel it comes to the standard of the team. Do we support the Lankan football team the way we support the cricket team?

Gehan said...

@Danny - no, but if the sri lankan football team played Argentina, i'd support Sri Lanka. Wouldn't u?

Danny said...

Would we ever play Argentina?

Gehan said...

That's not the point, is it? It's a case of would u, in the unlikely event we played ur favourite team?

Danny said...

Ofcourse I would support Sri Lanka.

My question is, would you support Sri Lanka if they played Vanuatu?

Gehan said...

Um, yes.

What is your point?

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