In sports, you don’t quit when you’re down. You wait for the game to be over and then take it on your chin. Or on your face, if you happen to be Mohun Bagan midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi who was hit by a stone chunk thrown by a lout from the stadium stands last Sunday. In that inflammable I-League afternoon match between the two old rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the madness began when the former club’s star player Okolie Odafa was sent off by the referee.
Well, it had actually started a few minutes earlier when East Bengal's Harmanjot Khabra scored and gave his side a lead. By the time Odafa was red-carded, Mohun Bagan fans had started pelting stones at, I would presume, the referee and East Bengal players. But then this was Kolkata, so one never can tell. Riot police came out of the woodwork, many of them reportedly throwing stones back at people thereby providing them with unlimited ammunition. With two key players out of action, Mohun Bagan fans essentially wanted to do what I do when I’m losing in a carrom match and turn the carrom board over: they didn't want the match to continue. But there’s more to it than crowds going berserk.
It turns out that senior club officials decided, over Sunday drinks at a nearby hotel, to not have their players return to play in the second half. Even though the police maintains that the crowd was brought under control during half-time, Mohun Bagan worthies cited ‘security concerns’, belched and decided long-distance to forfeit the match to avoid ‘humiliation’.
About a 40-minute drive away, humiliation had already been meted out earlier that day. At Eden Gardens, the much feted Indian cricket team (‘feted: v. honoured or entertained lavishly’) had packed up like a damp squib's wet end, notching up their first Test defeat at the ‘impregnable’ Eden after 1999 and was now staring at their first Test series defeat at home since 2004. Luckily, with very few in the stadium to watch England chase 41 runs to win, there were no Bengalis on the rampage and the match ended peacefully, a bit too peacefully for my liking.
But the matter of ‘quitting’ came up soon enough. In the post-match press conference, skipper MS Dhoni stated that “the easiest thing for me to say right now is to say, ‘I quit captaincy’ and be part of the side. But that’s like running away from responsibility”. No, MS. What it is like is being accountable. Because it wasn’t the defeat at Kolkata, even when clubbed with the defeat in Mumbai in the previous Test, that should have made Dhoni say ‘the easiest thing’. It’s the manner in which the Indian team lost that should have been perfect reason for the skipper to step down.
That, however, is not how Indian sports works, stupid! Speaking out after the Eden match — and some two months after being removed from the selection committee by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — Mohinder Amarnath stated that Dhoni’s removal as captain of a limp Test side had been overruled because of “politics in the BCCI”. Conspiracy theorists have grasped on to this handle to explain that Dhoni’s immunity lies in his being the captain of the Chennai Super Kings, the IPL team owned by BCCI president N Srinivasan.
Whether this has made it a wee bit more tricky to make a badly performing Indian Test side captain quit as skipper, I'm sure only someone such as Sachin Tendulkar — no quitter, he! — can tell if he chooses to. (Although Tendulkar did resign as captain after India's last series defeat at home in 2000 against South Africa.)
Thankfully, though, there’s more to sports administration than sports. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the newly-elected Indian Olympic Association (IOA) last week because of government interference in its election process, a development which puts a bar on India’s Olympic participation — ‘Six medals!’ — some quarters think that to be trampling on one’s sovereignty. Which, I guess, it kind of is considering that finding faults with the unopposed elections of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader and Haryana MLA Abhay Singh Chautala as IOA president and of Commonwealth Games scam-tainted and Suresh Kalmadi flunkey Lalit Bhanot as secretary general is stepping on someone else’s turd.
And that’s not all. The International Boxing Association suspended the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) last week for “possible manipulation” during its September elections..
They suspect “a potential political link between IOA president, as former chairman of the IABF, and the IABF election”. That’s IOA president — drum-roll please — Abhay Chautala again!
So next time any football club, national side and Indian sportsperson wins anything at all, know the odds against which they are fighting. And I don’t mean their opponents, but sports administration of any kind in this country.