A society with little availability of any healthy recreational activity, cricket acts as a focal point of discharging every emotion, right from hatred and violence to expression of superiority and glorification
The extreme emotionalism witnessed during the T20 cricket series throughout the entire length and breadth of Pakistan in the recent days is unprecedented. This was particularly visible when Pakistan cricket team was playing a match against India. Right from young teenagers to old timers people were euphoric. We could see girls praying to God for victory, boys raising slogans and even getting violent, middle aged women glued to their television screens and even old men behaving like adolescents.
The media was so obsessed with the sport that no other news would be aired on primetime but cricket. Veteran cricketers and enthusiasts were constantly being interviewed on channels offering “expert opinion” ranging from the outcome of the game to the strategy to be adopted by the Pakistan team. On achieving victory the team would receive accolades while losing the game brought wrath of the whole nation. Everybody would literally tear them apart.
This was what we all witnessed during the recent T-20 series. It appears that the day is not far when after losing a match people would come on the streets and engage in indiscriminate vandalism, for sports are no more sports but a war between the “righteous” and the “wrong.”
Ethnocentric sentiments are universal and normal. However when group behavior crosses a certain threshold with open displays of hatred and violence against the out-group; this is not normal.
Unfortunately the explicit displays of behavior we have seen during the recent cricket series are symptomatic of deep feelings of frustration and helplessness, so very pervasive in today’s Pakistan.
Political and socio-economic crises, strong feelings of insecurity, a strong sense of persecution coupled with false sentiments of superiority, righteousness and real or imagined reminisces of past glory have all contributed in the development of a mindset where the in-group has to contest the out-group for so-called survival. There is no via media and no concept of peaceful co-existence, plurality, cooperation and mutual respect. The contestant is the “enemy” and has to be defeated, for in her defeat lies the so-called survival of the in-group; a lesson deeply ingrained in our state ideology.
Hence the polarization which we observe in our society today is also a part of the sports we play. Here it is “we” against “them”.
So “we won” or “they lost” are common expressions in usage everywhere. Hence a one way emotional bond is developed. However here we find an interesting phenomenon; when the team wins it is always “we” who have won but if it loses it is “they” who lose, hence a distance is created immediately in case of failure to win a game. We have also developed stereotypes of “good players” and “bad players.” A stereotype is “...a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” The underlying feeling is that since we are superior and righteous, we must win. However in case we are defeated, every kind of reason and justification is invented to remove the cognitive dissonance so created. Either the players are accused of receiving bribery or they are condemned for showing poor performance, even if they played well.
So in case a player shows good performance he is labeled as a “good” player while in case of bad performance he is regarded as “bad.” So every kind of bad attribute is attached to the bad player, while the “good” player receives all the positive adjectives.
Since the state which we are a part of, discourages pluralism and diversity we are no more ready to accept the “other.” It appears as a threat to us and our elite continue to reinforce this attitude among the masses. Presently we have reached at a stage where within our own society we are not ready to accept anybody we define as not part of the so-called mainstream. This attitude has given birth to feelings of hatred against the “outsider” leading to extremist views and ultimately violence. This is the kind of agitation we witness on daily basis everywhere in this country; from demonstrations against power shortages to blasphemy to Pakistan’s defeat in a cricket match.
Media further aggravates the negative emotions already brewing up by highlighting sensitivities and emotionalizing every aspect of the game; relevant or irrelevant.
A society with little availability of any healthy recreational activity, cricket acts as a focal point of discharging every emotion, right from hatred and violence to expression of superiority and glorification. Hence the whole nation gets involved in a sport which acts as a mitigating factor of all emotions. However, the relief is short-lived and relapses after a while. And in the absence of any healthy outlet, it again translates into agitation and vandalism.
So, we face a double bind and are trapped in a vicious circle; frustration leading to aggression, and show of aggression causing further frustration.
The main victims of this malaise is the youth of this country whom we have very little to offer especially in terms of any future prospects. Millions of them are without jobs while every year thousands more are added to the category of unemployed. Then there are thousands who are coming out of madaris with no formal education as such.
The only possible way to recover from the deep seated disease is to stop the indoctrination of hate material. Promote plurality and the concept of mutual co-existence, sports and recreational activities be made available to the common man, particularly to the youth. Not only cricket but all indigenous sports are promoted.
It is not possible to rid the nation of deep feelings of frustration but the feelings can be positively channelized in a healthy way where sports is seen as just sports and not as a battle between the “righteous” and the “wrong.”
And if we fail to divert this overflowing frustration, it has all the potential to burn down everything we feel proud of; and whatever is left of cricket would also go down with it.
|Waseem Altaf is a social activist.