NO BOUNDARIES Nirmal Shekar

The ugly side of the beautiful game

However much the idealists — as sure-to-be-disappointed daydreaming losers of The Beautiful Game — would like to believe that things can only improve in the world of sport, particularly in its most popular one, all the routine nightmares intrude to jolt us into reality.

But then, corruption in high places, nepotism and minor on-the-field arguments, pushing and prodding, appear to be small irritants compared to the ruthless bloodthirstiness leading to fisticuffs and pseudo-nationalistic barbarity and brute force leading to lethal violence on the terraces.

If what followed the England-Russia match, the savagery involving fans — the Russian thugs seemed better equipped for the ‘occasion’ — brought back to mind the ever-present US versus THEM tribal madness, then the best that FIFA and UEFA together could do to prevent such incidents was simply not enough.

When one takes a step back and analyses, the violence in France, as bad as it was, wasn’t totally unexpected. It definitely caught the French police off guard; they were probably trying to unearth terror plots. But when one considers that what has been a terrifying problem in some parts of Europe — particularly England — can reach a disgraceful new peak in Russia during the World Cup, it is scary.

The Croatian fans, for their part, had their own fun by throwing in flares but were rather restrained and well behaved when their side beat the team that had not been conquered in the European Cup for 12 years — Spain.

While the organisers brought in an additional 600 policemen to the already deputed 1,500 for Russia’s next match, violence and international football often seem to go together when some teams are involved in the action in the middle.

Flares, smoke bombs, cigarettes and alcohol are the weapons with which the hooligans attack. The viewing public is still predominantly all-male, all-white. Clubs still fear signing black players and those from ethnic minorities. It is this ‘culture’ which the men who are misbehaving in France are gleefully soaked up in. Ever since the Heysel disaster in 1985 in Brussels involving Liverpool supporters, there has been considerable investment in stadium infrastructure. With closed circuit TV, segregation of fans and other measures, violence has largely been eliminated. But like we have seen in France, it has shifted to the outskirts, away from the stadia and like in Russia, it has taken the form of xenophobia and racism. How shuddering a thought it is when one considers that the 2018 World Cup is going to be held in Russia?

Scientists, archaeologists, palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists have proved long ago that race is a myth and all of us make up a single species — homo sapiens. But the idea of race and racial identification based on skin colour is so deeply embedded in our DNA that it may take a few hundred years, in the least, to evolve into a new type of species.

A lot of work with our DNA may well be possible and this may, in turn, erase all the junk from our genome. Even then…well, it feels good to be optimistic, doesn’t it, to think that all this visceral rage will be history and history alone to our grand-children and great grand-children and they would never have to witness a match being ruined because of skin colour and minor cultural differences. Now, just imagine that the Englishmen targeted by the Russian hooligans were all black-skinned — surely a lot more blood would have been spilt.

Evolutionary retards

But this much is sure. Monkey chants, throwing bananas at what the perpetrators feel are less-than-human races simply means that these rogues are culturally challenged men left behind by evolution. By doing what they do to their enemies, these men simply end up morally ill-equipped and psychologically stripped of all humanity.

It may seem paradoxical that the one branch of humanity that appeared capable, more than anything else, of building bridges between peoples of the world should find it impossible to break down the barriers for one reason or the other.

But the point is that international football is seldom the place to look for exemplary behaviour; what we see again and again is a steep decline in levels of fair play and bloodthirsty passions that have gone the way of the Pleistocene Era.

Yet, the point is not whether these relatively minor incidents that bring shame to the game would be remembered by fans 10 or 20 years down the line. The question is whether sport is becoming a forum for venting anger and frustration — whether it can be allowed to be converted into a stage where rashness, pettiness, meanness and scapegoating become the norm.

Pride in identification with your nation’s flag and national colours is one thing. But getting carried away to the point of doing anything to put down the opponent — on the field by the players and in the stands by the fans — is quite another.

It is time for a cleanup act in a sport that Pele called Jogo Bonito (The Beautiful Game).

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 3:14:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/The-ugly-side-of-the-beautiful-game/article14475934.ece

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