Cover photo: The one basic element of sports, Abhinav Bindra says, is to play by the rules, and as citizens, we need to follow the rules to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. (File Photo,BCCI/IPL)
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
26 April 2021
Cricketers should play their part in getting right message across and/or contribute financially to curb the pandemic, says Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra.
A very thoughtful reflection by the ace Olympic shooter (10 meter rifle) on how sportspersons can contribute to the society during this trying Covid Pandemic. He says our health system has had a breakdown and we need a lot more investment in Health. He has specifically identified the role BCCI can play in this regard by making substantial financial contributions (from its huge pool of funds) to the Covid Vaccine drive. He also says the ongoing IPL cricket tournament just does not gell with the current pathetic situation where people are running from pillar to post for medical oxygen, hospital beds, vaccines, essential Covid medical care and even shortage of Covid test kits. It appears black marketeers are holding India's health system to ransom. On Saturday the great Australian wicket keeper batsman Adam Gilchrist had questioned whether it was appropriate for IPL 2021 to go ahead amid 3.50 Lakh cases of Covid infection, the highest sigle-day spike so far in India. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
I am completely devastated with the suffering the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on our people. There has been a complete breakdown of our medical system. I’m not blaming it on the hospitals or their workforce. They are the real heroes of today’s times, so nothing but respect to them. But it goes to show that we do require a lot more investment in healthcare.
The last few weeks have also exposed a lot of other issues. We are seeing a lot of apathy and egoism. It’s wonderful to see how much people are doing to help each other on social media. Some others are doing it in their own silent ways. But overall, in all verticals – be it the political establishment or people in other walks of life – we need to come together and show solidarity and kindness towards each other because those are the only attributes that will help us get through this extremely painful moment in our nation’s history.
Unfortunately, people not just in India but globally seem to be lacking empathy. Not just during the pandemic, but in other times too. There is excessive nationalism as well, like we are seeing with vaccine distribution across the world. The decisions right now need to be driven not by these factors but by science.
And as citizens, we need to follow the rules. The one basic element of sports is to play by the rules. This is why I got frustrated with wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt’s tweet. What he said about the Kumbh Mela and the references to a certain section of society is something we do not need at the moment.
Sport, like life, hardly gives you second chances, certainly not in a pandemic era. In some sports, you have a way to come back through repechage but in the game of life, there is no such thing. Seeing a comment like that coming from someone whom I greatly respect for his achievements was frustrating. Everybody needs to behave responsibly and get the messaging right, especially when you are a role model to millions.
Sportspersons in India have been criticised for not speaking up on issues of national interest, or saying things that do not upset the establishment. This isn’t a recent trend and it’s hard to argue against it. I don’t know what stops Indian athletes from expressing their thoughts freely, maybe it is the fear of repercussions. But I don’t know why the fear would exist because sport is largely meritorious in nature. If you are good enough, nobody can stop you from competing.
I’d like to go back to something that sport taught me – to succeed, you require a tremendous amount of courage, integrity, and honesty. This is what makes us athletes very unique human beings. We live in a free society and nobody can prompt anybody to speak up or be quiet but as role models, we have a big responsibility to promote the right values. That’s the least we can do.
Many athletes have had great achievements and are heroes in their own right. But we are not saving any lives. So let us keep our achievements in right perspective, look at what is happening around us, look at all the frontline workers and their efforts to save lives. They are the real heroes. So if we have the possibility of helping out in whatever way we can, we should do it.
That brings me to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the debate whether it is inappropriate to continue playing right now or if it serves as a distraction. Personally, I am not able to watch any sport at the moment. Even when I go on Twitter and see some news about the IPL on my timeline, I quickly scroll past it because I am not able to relate to any of it at the moment.
But that’s just me. There could be positives as well. There is so much negativity right now, as people and as a nation, that we also need an outlet to keep us going. So that is one element which is very positive.
The players should realise just how privileged they are to be able to play the IPL in these times. So I just hope everybody involved in the IPL play their part in one way or the other, either through right messaging – like the importance of masking up, the importance of social distancing – or even finding creative ways to amplify the health requirements of people.
Secondly, if I was the BCCI president and had the capability – and I understand the IPL is not a charity – I would definitely give a large amount to do, say, the vaccination right or help out in any other way. This is one way to acknowledge that to conduct IPL right now is a huge privilege and everyone should act responsibly.
Cricketers and officials can’t just live in their own bubble, and be totally deaf or blind to whatever is going outside. I can only imagine that while you’re having these IPL games, outside the stadium you have ambulances going to hospitals. I don’t know how the coverage on TV is but I would really appreciate if it’s a little bit muted in nature. I think celebration and everything around it should be at a minimum because you have to show a little bit of respect to society.
If we show some kindness, it’ll help us heal as individuals and as a nation. That process is not going to be easy. We know the pandemic isn’t ending tomorrow, but we don’t know what the endgame is. So many people are going to lose their lives, so many families are going to be affected… it’s going to be so tough.
In sport, we talk about victories and defeats. But when the pandemic eventually subsides, and that day will come, there will be no victory. Just an end.
The writer is an Olympic gold medallist, founder of Abhinav Bindra Foundation and member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete’s Commission. He spoke to Mihir Vasavda