The pain, disappointment and anger that fans in the sub-continent feel in the aftermath of the disastrous performance of their teams is understandable. The violent reaction is not.
|The murder of Pakistan’s cricket coach Bob Woolmer and the explosive, even violent, reaction of cricket fans in India and Pakistan following their elimination from the World Cup has cast a pall of gloom over the games and roiled the cricket world.|
Woolmer’s death in his hotel room in Jamaica a day after Pakistan was ousted from the tournament was initially attributed to a heart attack, then rumored to have been a suicide before an autopsy concluded that he had been murdered by strangulation. Rumors abound that Woolmer was the victim of betting syndicates and suspicion has even been cast on the Pakistan squad. Jamaican police interrogated, fingerprinted and secured DNA samples of all team members before they left the island for home.
In both India and Pakistan angry fans went berserk following their teams’ defeats. Mobs attacked the homes of cricket players in Karachi and in several parts of Pakistan marched to slogans of “Death to Woolmer” and “Death to Inzamam-ul-Haq,” the team’s captain, who has since announced his retirement from international one-day cricket. Likewise, in India fans burnt effigies and held mock funeral processions of players. Wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s home in Ranchi, currently under construction, was attacked by rampaging mobs livid at his poor performance. Police were deployed to protect Indian Captain Rahul Dravid’s home in Bangalore, batsman Sachin Tendulkar’s house in Bandra, Mumbai, and bowler Zaheer Khan’s restaurant in Pune. Both Indian coach Greg Chappell and captain Dravid have expressed concerns for their safety.
The pain, disappointment and anger — especially after slick marketing and publicity hype ramped up exaggerated expectations — that fans in the sub-continent feel in the aftermath of the disastrous performance of their teams is understandable. A through examination of the commitment and competence of players and sport management, as well as investigations into the overt politicization and over-commercialization of the game is clearly warranted. Without question, half-hearted or lack-luster performance should be called to account and even penalized.
But the violence unleashed by angry mobs can neither be justified nor rationalized. Indeed, the obsession and raucousness that sub-continental cricket fans are demonstrating is escalating to the dangerous levels of their fanatical soccer counterparts in Europe.
Unsavory bookies are destroying a game that once had a reputation as a gentleman’s sport, in which teams break for lunch, tea and dinner. Less than a decade ago, the game was mired in scandals involving match-fixing that ensnared several prominent players. It now seems patently clear that the International Cricket Council has not moved aggressively enough to police the sport. The time has also come to reign in the excessive commercialization of teams and players, which is increasingly undermining performance and fanning irrational fan behavior. Otherwise, as Mike Atherton wrote recently in London’s Telegraph, the game is “seriously close to losing its soul.”