Sport is the opiate of the masses. We all know it: it’s not religion anymore, at least in the West. It’s sport. Football, really, but wider sport in general. For my parents the later UK lockdowns were totally bearable because live sport continued, a marked contrast to the early days of Covid measures in March-June of 2020.
I for one really wasn’t that fussed, not least because I gave up Sky Sports long ago and with it the notion that there was always a crucial match that really needed watching. Admittedly while trying to teach Young Jos how to watch TV (which really was crucial in lockdown 1.0 with the whole teaching-from-home thing) we did resort to some strange Czech tractor driving competitions and I confess it got fairly gripping at times but I am happy to declare myself actually not addicted to live sport.
This is perhaps why I found it so bizarre that the IPL carried on for so long amidst India’s rising Covid crisis. When England played their Test series over there and spectators were admitted, I found it bizarre: even then numbers were rising and while I’m no Covid-scaredy-cat, it seemed like a political rather than a sensible idea.
I am deeply concerned about India’s current government, its policies and its human rights abuses. For anyone interested, I can’t recommend the writing of Arundhati Roy enough, especially Azadi which is a collection of short essays and lectures that shed light on Prime Minister Modi’s most sinister actions.
Throw that in with woeful mismanagement of the Covid crisis in India and it becomes even clearer that the IPL was kept running as a distraction. The opiate of the masses. Distracting those poor ordinary Indians from the catastrophe around them. There were official statements defending the tournament’s continuation just a week or so ago, arguing that it brought comfort to the people during a difficult time. I’m all for Blitz spirit and all that but this seemed patronising at best and much more sinister at worst.
With growing concern in Australia, including not allowing any Aussie players, coaches or other personnel involved to re-enter Australia, Michael Slater spoke out in criticism of Australia’s policy. But what else could be done? All the overseas players, coaches, pundits and others had to be able to make a risk assessment before travelling. Cases were high before the start of the tournament. I was amazed that Jos Buttler’s pregnant wife headed out to India for 6 weeks (and I’m not sure whether she’s stayed there or not – this isn’t meant to be a criticism as I don’t know their thinking, but I was certainly surprised). It felt like everyone involved was being asked to either put themselves at high risk for the sake of ‘business as usual’ – which has failed, although we now wait to see whether the IPL might be completed solely in Mumbai or even in England – or was promised such biosecurity that it is totally out of touch with the experience of most Indians.
Of course cricketers aren’t responsible for the growing divide between super-rich and poor in India, and nor should they turn down financial reward for the sake of principles about Indian social mobility. But the whole thing of playing last year’s tournament in Sterile City aka Dubai and now essentially trying to replicate that for the players and their families in India itself is just so out of touch with fans that it takes sport to a new plane. When the IPL continued, it became a political football. I am pleased it has been suspended and hope therefore cricketers and those involved are able to remain sportspeople, rather than becoming part of the establishment structure designed to keep the people downtrodden. When Modi is the establishment, I don’t want cricket anywhere near it.