Virat Kohli and hyper-nationalism problem

Virat Kohli, the Indian cricket team skipper, is known to speak his mind. However, his recent statement is a classic case of foot in the mouth. This comes at a time when Indian society is already debating about patriotism and hyper-nationalism in a fragmented polity.

On his official app on Wednesday, Kohli was responding to queries posed by Twitter users. One comment really seemed to irk the Indian skipper. The comment from the user criticised Kohli and praised Australia and England batsmen. “Over-rated batsman and personally I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians,” the comment read.

It is Kohli’s response that has created fresh controversy. The response was, “I don’t think you should live in India then… you should go and live somewhere else, no? Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right.”

Against sporting ethos

Kohli’s basic statement goes against the very premise of sportsmanship and why sports is played. When one looks at the various definitions of sportsmanship, it is defined as an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.

When one puts Kohli’s statement in this bracket, the question of respect and enjoyment is thrown out of the window. This statement is especially problematic in the India of 2018, where patriotism and hyper-nationalism are at an irrational fever-pitch

Patriotism not equal to sports

In India, there have been several instances of ‘patriotic’ fans going overboard in their support. In Meerut, several students from Jammu and Kashmir were charged for sedition when they cheered Shahid Afridi hitting two sixes to help Pakistan beat India by one wicket in the 2014 Asia Cup.

Whenever India and Pakistan have clashed, there has been hyper patriotism on show, fuelled by a jingoistic media from both sides. When a team loses, either the sportsperson’s house is stoned or the sportsperson is given death threats. Fans can sometimes set stands on fire irrespective of the occasion, a classic case in point: The disgraceful behaviour of the Eden Gardens crowd when India capitulated against Sri Lanka in the 1996 semi-final.

Enjoying the game?

Kohli’s statement will only pour fuel into the hyper-nationalistic fire that is prevalent in India. The statement throws the basic ethos of sports — which is to enjoy performances and skills irrespective of opposition. Every true fan of sports must have the privilege of enjoying his game, appreciate the skills irrespective of country and opposition.

However, where Kohli is correct is that if the attack is personal, then he has every right to retaliate back. Calling him over-rated is stupidity but it is certainly NOT a personal attack.

In India, whenever fans have dared to cheer the opposing team, they have been met with taunts and slogans of ‘Go to Pakistan.’ However, in the sporting world, Kohli can look at two instances which show how irrelevant his statement is.

The response of the Chennai crowd in 1999 when Pakistan won a Test in India and the applause they richly deserved for playing better cricket is one of the fine chapters of India. Second, Kohli would do well to heed the words of former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum during his Colin Cowdrey lecture when he emphatically stated, “Cricket was meant to be a game, not a life or death struggle.” Perhaps this fact is lost on Kohli and hyper-patriotic fans: Cricket is JUST a GAME.