At the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, on Monday, when water bottles were being thrown from the stands, Sunil Gavaskar made a very valid point. The security forces were just standing and watching the whole thing. And you can see why, for they were perhaps wondering how to wade through the packed stands and fight the menace.
The contrast with the conditions in stadia overseas is remarkable. The security personnel are always patrolling the staircases and aisles. As a rule, these areas must be kept vacant at all times. Ushers/volunteers do not allow people to stand in these spots and move them on at all times. It helps remove the odd joker, who gets drunk and wants to misbehave with the crowd, or even the players.
There is another rule. None of the security forces stationed at these grounds are allowed to turn their backs to the crowd. You will never find any of them standing and watching the game, even at its most thrilling moments. That is how they are able to sight streakers or even fully clothed drunkards who are willing to pay hefty fines (in excess of 1000 Australian dollars inclusive of taxes at the 2015 ODI World Cup final) for a moment of madness.
The authorities want to maintain order and discipline, yet they will allow you to enjoy as well, sensibly of course.
Consider this. Test cricket in England starts at 11 am local time. That is also when the drinking starts. The drinks flow through the day there, as also in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. If all the drinking calls for frequent use of the restroom facilities, those are quite accessible too.
The access for differently-abled spectators is mighty impressive too.
It is a general differentiation with how cricket is watched in the sub-continent, particularly in India. Fans here might be more passionate but they are definitely not well treated. Forget beer, it is not easy to procure safe drinking water inside a cricket stadium in India, that too at market value. Water pouches are made available, mostly at exorbitant prices. There are cold drinks too, for pouring rights remain a vital source of income for every state association. But they are over-priced, and usually stale, especially when dispensing machines are used.
The less said about the food, the better. It is in deep contrast with the choicest meat-on-barbecue on-offer abroad.
Fans in India, meanwhile, bear the brunt of restrictions when accessing cricket stadiums. When Pepsi won IPL sponsorship rights, they distributed free drinks outside all IPL venues. But you had to down them outside the gates. Drinks and eatables aren’t allowed in.
The 2011 World Cup, the biggest tournament in recent times in India, saw many such incidents. On commentary duty, Sir Geoffrey Boycott wasn’t allowed to bring in his sandwiches at the Kotla in Delhi. Also, you had to leave behind any coins on your person. There was a mountainous stash collected at the entry gates at Wankhede ahead of the final. Of course, no one knows who took that money home.
All these restrictions have roots in two major incidents that rocked Indian cricket in the 90s. Both happened at Eden Gardens – the 1996 World Cup semifinal and the 1999 Asian Test Championship match between India and Pakistan. But sometimes these restrictions border on the illogical.
For example, mobile phones were banned ahead of the India-Australia quarterfinal at Motera in Ahmedabad in 2011 World Cup, and shops lining up the roadway made a killing whilst safeguarding the phones. It was the same for the India-England Test in the 2012-13 season.
During that same series, fans also suffered during the Nagpur Test. The new ground at Jamtha is out of city limits. Players have their cavalcades, and media personnel are provided with shuttle buses of course. But no such arrangements are made for the fans. Their plight is particularly worse after close of play when they line up the open highway to flag down any mode of transportation back to town.
It underlines the fact that caring for the fans isn’t an outright point of discussion for the BCCI. It is up to each individual state association to figure out what best they can do for the paying public. As such, there are some bright sparks. Off late, the Wankhede and the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore have become more people friendly, in terms of all facilities. The Kotla in Delhi too has made some improvements, slotting in ramps to its general areas.
But more needs to be done, and on a much larger canvas. And this is where the Cuttack incident will hurt. Gavaskar has already spoken about possible sanctions. Indian skipper MS Dhoni meanwhile sat on the fence about this issue, labeling it a harmless, fun activity on the part of a few. It shows that the administration will be divided on the issue. Vote bank politics will be a part of it too, rest assured.
The common fan, meanwhile, will continue to suffer for he doesn’t have a vote. The restrictions will continue, and possibly get worse. The people in Cuttack were allowed water bottles on account of heat. That will surely be banned for the remainder of this South Africa series.
And if you cannot bear sitting in the heat, without basic amenities, it does not matter. India is a country of a billion people, and if a few thousand in Cuttack cannot be made to fall in line, the ones in Ranchi, or Raipur, or Kochi, or Jaipur, and so on, will do just fine.
It is only about money, never mind proper food, water or washrooms for the ones paying it.
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