Review of Nandan Kamath’s Boundary Lab — Inside the Global Experiment Called Sport: Feelings in the game

Nandan Kamath lays bare the fine print that shadows sport, from individual brilliance to branding

April 26, 2024 09:01 am | Updated 09:01 am IST

Sport is never just about sweat and skill visible on the turf, it is also about history, society, logistics and obviously involves a lot of thought. The back-story is as important as the one that is visible to us and over the past few years many writers have attempted to dissect the elements that constitute sport, both as an athletic endeavour and as an object of viewing pleasure.

Stephen Mumford’s Watching Sport and closer home Binoo K. John’s Top Game have all been wonderful accompaniments that aid in the deciphering of sport at many levels. In this list of ‘prise-open-sport-and-you-will-be-rewarded’ ventures, Nandan Kamath hustles in with the energy of the junior cricketer he once was and the lawyer and sports entrepreneur that he is now.

Game, set, match

The result is a weighty book, Boundary Lab, in which Kamath throws light on skills, commerce, individual brilliance, team solidity, corruption and lays bare the fine print that shadows sport. At its base, the book dwells on why we play sport, watch sport or do both. “The aesthetic appeal of sport provides its own unquantifiable, but very real benefits. Watching an artistic gymnast or a stylish batter provides pure pleasure,” the author writes in the initial pages.

Sport is also quirky, as a wide ball in cricket or a missed penalty in football may alter fortunes inexorably and Kamath writes: “The test is whether it is the basket of skills or the bouquet of chance that is predominant in determining the outcome of the game.” Like in life, the ‘what-if’ question is intrinsic to all sports fans as frothy brews get spilled and angst ripples during many watering hole conversations.

Like the great Philip Kotler’s musings on marketing, Kamath gets into the branding space and holds forth: “Markets and economies have grown around the identification, development and marketing of athletes, the hosting of events, the communication of sports content to spectators and viewers, and the engagement of fans.” The author also dwells on whether India should bid for the Olympics and as the book winds to a close, there is enough food for thought.

Boundary Lab; Nandan Kamath, Penguin/Viking, ₹799.

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