“The show must go on”, that’s what International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Avery Brundage had said in 1972 a day after the Black September massacre. He was castigated by many for saying so. How could the IOC president let the showpiece event in Munich continue and not take stock of what had happened? How could he not be sensitive to lives lost to terror?
May be history would have judged him more kindly. May be he was not wrong after all. By doing what he did, by not giving in to terror and using sport to stand up to it, he created a template that is still being followed by people from across the world.
Can sport really do it? Does it have any power in the face of serious political adversity? Does the fact that England and France played at Wembley in the aftermath of the Paris attacks with fans singing the French national anthem have any real significance? Does sport really have the power to bring people together in the aftermath of atrocities like the Paris massacre?
It was just days after the 26/11 attacks that the English team came back to India to play two Test matches. In the words of Sachin Tendulkar, “It was extremely difficult to focus on cricket after all that had happened. May be that’s why the win was so significant. It was as if we were able to do a little to bring the country back to normalcy. While nothing can ever make up for the grief people had suffered, we felt we had at least been able to bring a smile to people’s faces for a few seconds.” That’s the whole point. Sport has the power to captivate, to enable people to forget their sorrows and disappointments and for a few seconds and join in a celebration of sorts. Why else the French national anthem at the Wembley?
The fact that the French team had travelled to England, that they took the field braving all that had happened in Paris some days ago, English and French fans filling the galleries signalled the power of sport. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time sport has been used in this way.
And clearly it will not be the last. The Olympics, as many will agree, is a peace symbol first and then a sporting event. The Olympic flame is a symbol of harmony and celebrates cultural plurality and togetherness.
Cricket too has been used many a time to combat terror. Take the 1996 World Cup for example. When Australia and the West Indies refused to travel to an LTTE ravaged Sri Lanka, there was every threat the island will be declared a terrorist state. At the behest of Jagmohan Dalmiya a joint India Pakistan team travelled to Sri Lanka and played what was far more than a cricket match. It allowed Sri Lankans a fresh lease of life and the fact that Arjuna Ranatunga’s team went on to script history is perhaps a fitting riposte to all that had happened. So what role can we ascribe to sport in the near future in our attempt to combat terror? Was it the right call to send the French team to England?
The answer is a resounding yes. As I have mentioned elsewhere, sport is far more than medals won and records broken. As the popular saying goes in Olympic academic circles, ‘Take sports out of the Olympics and you still have the movement to fall back on’. While this is certainly an exaggeration, it is time to accept sport is never only about sportspeople. Rather, it is meant as a mechanism to garner mass support in the poorest of countries, among men and women who will make it to a sports contest.
Sport, and its relevant records and statistics, are important for the way in which they can affect societies surrounding them. Thus, when the Puerto Ricans march in the Olympic opening ceremony even when they don’t have a representative in the United Nations, or when an Indian hockey team wins gold after defeating its former colonial masters in 1948 and finally when an England stadium sings the French anthem the significance of such acts stretches far beyond the narrow confines of sport.
Written by a sports enthusiast Nitesh Kumar for pikapost.com