Many generations of sports fans in the country have been witness to the great India v Pakistan cricket rivalry – a six off the last ball has caused unforgettable heartbreaks while a rookie unit defeating the archrivals in the finals has triggered sentiment on the other side of the emotional spectrum. The latest edition of this rivalry on Sunday though was as tasteless off the field as it was on it.
Yes, there has been enmity and hatred between the two sets of fans previously as well, but the sheer force of it on social media actually hit you like a wrecking ball. Further fuelling this fire was a barrage of negativity from media outlets like Zee News that had urged the Men in Blue to boycott this match amid the political tension between the two countries.
Over the weekend was also the UEFA Champions League final that saw Real Madrid outclass Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff, courtesy Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace. It also helped him become the top-scorer in the latest edition of the tournament by overtaking Lionel Messi (10) with 11 goals and capping off a memorable 12 months or so, which saw the Portuguese grab no less than 10 big honours.
Simultaneously, he also earned a cover on EA Sports’ FIFA 18 video game for the first time ever with a 94 base rating. But detractors (read Messi fans) have already started hating on him, claiming that Ronaldo deserves a much lower rating because he has lost substantial pace in the recent years – this, despite a prolific last season.
So what is it that drives sports fans to such extremes? Is it the mere nature of sport that affects their passionate reactions to their team’s loss or is it something much more deeply rooted?
Is winning everything?
As a society, we are obsessed with victory. We cry our lungs out in support of our team, invest everything emotionally just to see them win and when things go wrong, we sit and mop like a wounded cat. On the contrary, when things do go right, we celebrate with joy.
Sport after all, is civilized war. Defeat means that you are robbed off your pride, your territory and your self-esteem. Victory gives you the license to be as cocky as you please. Being a neutral and supporting the better team is boring, even though that is what the greatest players suggest. This is why home advantage is so big in any sport. The support and hostility spewed out from crowds make things really difficult for the away team, because they are playing against an added opponent.
Take for example, a packed Wankhede stadium in a T20 match between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore. People will passionately boo the likes of Virat Kohli (who captains India) as well, because that’s what the mob is doing. Then there are Ultras in Italian football, who even resort to killing if they can’t keep a check on their emotions. And how can one forget what happened during the Euro 2016 after the England v Russia clash.
Players like Mario Balotelli and Anton Ferdinand have even been victims of racism directed by fans from the stands; because well, it’s extremely easy to hide behind a mob. No fan has the audacity to ring the doorbell of Mario’s house and hurl abuse at him.
It might be asking for too much (utopia is wrong), but fans should take a cue from players on how to handle defeat with grace. Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – they share probably the biggest individual rivalry in sport at the moment, but you’ll never hear them speak ill about each other. Ditto, in the case of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. One look at a video of them laughing together, and you will not believe that these were the same men who put every inch of their energy in a tough five-set Wimbledon final.
Some recent incidents in sport have also strengthened the ideals of sportsmanship. Take the example of the #ACityUnited campaign after the recent Manchester terror attacks that had derby rivals Manchester United and Manchester City join forces for a better world. Adversity even brought out the best of fans in Germany, as Borussia Dortmund supporters initiated the #BedsForAwayFans hashtag for the AS Monaco travelling party, following blasts ahead of the Champions League clash between the two sides.
To ridicule the opponent (or their fans) is equivalent of insulting the sport itself. Yes, players like Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are guilty of ugly banter, and you’ll still find sledging during the fierce Ashes rivalry. But these instances shouldn’t dissuade the fan into thinking that sport is all about winning at the cost of someone’s pride. It’s about emerging winners by playing better than the opponent. The wise words of Rudyard Kipling could not be more fitting, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same.”