Bishan Singh Bedi-DDCA saga a reminder of India's non-existent sports culture
The remit of a stadium goes beyond its primary, prosaic function of providing space for sports. These are breathing, living theatres where men and women sweat, simmer, sculpt, and soar. To subject such institutions to the nasty whims of a few is a monumental cultural disservice to the society perpetually bereft of inspiration.
On 23 December, former India spinner Bishan Singh Bedi wrote to DDCA, asking his name to be removed from one of the stands at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground. Bedi’s point of contention was simple; he was miffed at DDCA’s decision to build a statue of their former president Arun Jaitley whose long tenure (1999-2013) was riddled with numerous corruption allegations and controversies.
Five days later, Home Minister Amit Shah, in the presence of BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, unveiled the six-foot, 800 kg statue of the late finance minister near the Virender Sehwag Gate. It was a moment of poignant shame and sorry disregard; a forgettable picture that said a thousand unfortunate words, and an apt reflection of the stifling conundrum that cricket administration in India has become.
Unveiled a statue of Shri Arun Jaitley ji at New Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium. His pioneering contribution in promoting cricket will never be forgotten. We will always miss him as an incredible person dedicated towards nation’s progress. My tributes to Arun ji on his jayanti. pic.twitter.com/DOIclIfrCM
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 28, 2020
Ganguly’s anointment as the BCCI president was seen by many as the beginning of the veritable golden age of India’s cricket administration. For far too long, strongmen and factions have held sway over country’s solitary common passion, and Ganguly’s tenure, it was believed, would rid BCCI of the coterie culture. If only.
Ganguly has since gone on a spree of sorts, signing endorsement deals with fantasy app My11Circle and Edtech startup Classplus, both of which are direct rivals of BCCI’s sponsors Dream 11 and BYJU’S. Legal intricacies aside, the sight of the board president, who happened to be a charismatic cricket captain, batting for fantasy apps is jarring. Add to it, the fact that Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah (Amit Shah’s son) continue to hold on to their posts despite their tenure having technically ended, and you realise that the more things change in Indian officialdom, the more they remain the same.
It is in this context that the issue of Bedi versus DDCA needs to be looked at. This is not the first instance of a stadium being named after a politician/administrator, and by all accounts, it won’t be the last. Kotla itself was renamed Arun Jaitley Stadium last year. Two years back, Lucknow’s Ekana Cricket Stadium became Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium a day before the ground was to host a T20 game between India and West Indies. From Bengaluru to Mumbai to Chennai to Hyderabad — not to forget a clutch of stadiums within the capital — the country’s stadiums are named after people who have had precious little to do with sports.
It must be noted that none of this nomenclature has made things easier for the paying public. In fact, a majority of India’s sports stadiums are a spectator’s nightmare. From seating, parking, access, mobile and internet connectivity to things as basic as clean washrooms and drinking water, one has to go through hell to appreciate sporting excellence in flesh and blood.
For perspective, Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu – with its astonishing museum, high-end experience tunnels, atmospherics, and acoustics — is a veritable candy store for a football fan. The Lord’s library houses some of the rarest and finest cricket literature, the design engineers at Wanda Metropolitano have ensured that none of its 68,000-odd spectators feel too far away from the action, while the statues of Sir Donald Bradman and Shane Warne continue to inspire visitors at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. By contrast, the blaring music systems at an Indian Premier League (IPL) match are enough to put one off from sport watching itself. Stadiums are seen as white elephants, not cradles of excellence where skills meet the limit of endurance.
The urge to name sporting arenas after politicians or get their statues erected in stadiums is a typically Indian mix of narcissism and sycophancy, and in DDCA’s case, a concrete reminder of nepotism. Lest one forget, the decision to build Jaitley’s statue was taken at an apex council meeting attended by his son and newly-appointed president Rohan when the Association has issues of unpaid wages to support staff, cricket calendar, and pending litigation to deal with.
DDCA's decision, unfortunately, appears in line with country's ruling dispensation's proclivity for statues, event management, and renaming even as more important issues continue to rage. Their response to the crisis has been equally apathetic. Much like the government's tested recourse of ignore-discredit-retribute to any resistance, DDCA chose not to respond to Bedi, who wrote a second letter to the Association on 27 December, threatening legal action. Year 2021 promises to be an open season between a governing body that couldn't care less and a forthright former stalwart of the game.
The episode has served to further tarnish the image of DDCA, already considered among the worst-run sports bodies in a country teeming with badly-run sports bodies. Those in the know of things hint at age-fudging at junior levels while DDCA officials continue to cover themselves in disgrace. Earlier this year, DDCA secretary Vinod Tihara was arrested in Meerut over a GST evasion case. He is out on bail and back in the saddle. The ground itself is renowned for its ghastly design and dead pitch and has long been a laughing stock among journalists and irate fans. Former Delhi cricketers marvel at how the city continues to produce world-class players despite the system, and not because of it.
The Bedi-DDCA slugfest is not just about a statue or a name on the plaque, neither is it about the outspoken honesty of an upright man. It tells a lot about how the country looks at sports, and also the hushed silence of the galaxy of Delhi cricketers, one of who happens to be the captain of India's men's team. Perhaps it is too much to expect country's sports stars to speak on contentious issues, but in a year headlined by the rise of the athlete-resistor globally, one perhaps expected better.
The remit of a stadium goes beyond its primary, prosaic function of providing space for sports. These are breathing, living theatres where men and women sweat, simmer, sculpt, and soar. To subject such institutions to the nasty whims of a few is a monumental cultural disservice to the society perpetually bereft of inspiration. As for the sports culture in India, Twitter-savvy ministers can lead one into believing that such a thing actually exists when all we have are asinine hashtags and grotesque statues to show.
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