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It's a World Cup finals that only 18 million Indian homes will be able to see because Ten Sports has only tenuous links with our cable operators. It?s a game that most Indians aren?t excited about, if only because football isn?t cricket.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2002 19:58 IST

It's a World Cup finals that only 18 million Indian homes will be able to see because Ten Sports has only tenuous links with our cable operators. It’s a game that most Indians aren’t excited about, if only because football isn’t cricket. Only a handful of Indians bothered to go see the matches in Korea/Japan. Yet, Indian newspapers seem to be devoting more space to this FIFAraway event than to the imminent war between India and Pakistan.

This has reportedly irked every one of our leaders, from North to South Block. Last week, I met one of these Peeved Politicos. “No paper is featuring me, day after day in blow-up, close-up, and state of my hamstrings. Yet, I am no less than that Brazilian.” Seeing my puzzled look, the neta said nonchalantly. “I hail from Lucknow and its culture of ‘Pele Aap’.”

I let that pass like a kick from Rivaldo to Roberto. I did not know whether I should take that remark as seriously as the Ireland manager took the undisciplined behaviour of his star player. But I was still Keane to find out more about what had been bugging our Narked Neta. He spelt it out: “It is an international scandal! How can such an irrelevant ball-to-ball discussion be allowed to get precedence over such an irreversible eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.”

He had a point. Here we were on the verge of being nuked out of existence, if we were to believe Powell, Straw and other frequent flyers of the Anglo-American Peace Tour. And there was the media going on and on about teenage mutant soccer fans. Here we were at the nucleus of the first nuclear war, and there was the World Cup taking away our 15 seconds of fame with its trivia.

I tried to tell the Neglected Neta that life and games go on, despite conflagrations in other parts of the world, or even in the vicinity. But it would have been easier pacifying a referee infuriated by a phony foul.

Set on fire like the Spanish Armada, he ranted, “What do these sweaty stars think of themselves? Any politician, back, mid-field or forward, can beat soccer at its own game.”

“What are you saying, ji?” I remonstrated. “What could anyone possibly find in common between, say, the World Cup’s highest-ranked official and our highest-ranking leader? The tough and slender Pierliugi Collina is known to stare down players, while our gentle and portly Vajpayee-ji can barely keep his eyes open.”

The Nullified Neta got all worked up over what he considered my unpatriotic stand. “So what?” he demanded. “When push comes to shove, has Vajpayee-ji ever hesitated from handing out a yellow card of caution or even a red card of expulsion?” I tried to dribble my way past that one, but he pulled out another card from the sleeve of his elegant kurta. “They are learning all our tricks. Didn’t FIFA’s now-sacked General Secretary accuse the President, Blatter-Settji, of every political specialty, from corruption to cronyism? Our parties can give them some more lessons on organisational rifts at the highest level.”

“Own goal” is, admittedly, a distinguishing feature of Indian politics, but that still didn’t justify the remarks of this Pissed-off Pele-tician. I continued to distract him from his ludicrous comparisons. “Yes, BJP leaders have infamously used Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ ploy to justify their juggernaut-roll towards dubious goals, but that’s as far as it goes.”

Our Livid Leader refused to bend from his thundering trajectory like a Beckham ball. “No,” he insisted, “I can give you any number of similarities.” He cast a cautious eye over his shoulder like a winger, and said “here are so many penalty kicks, especially for our two lady politicians.” He whispered, “They even look like footballs.”

The Miffed Mantri continued, “You call us Aya Ram, Gaya Ram, but have you seen how many times these soccerwallahs switch camps? In Friday’s opener, you couldn’t tell if Senegal was playing against France or its own team; I’m told 20 of its 23-member squad plays in France.”

He added, “The coaches are even bigger floor-crossers. In this finals, a record number of them is pitted against their own countries. Yes, Madam, I’ll admit, in cavalier loyalty, we politicians need some coaching lessons from the likes of Eriksson who has no problem whispering Swede nothings to England.”

Then, he administered the parting shot. “But politicians still score over footballers. They may have the fancy kicks, but we have the kickbacks.”

Alec Smart said, “Where does the new Miss Universe, Oxana, come from? Mos-cow.”

First Published: Jun 29, 2002 19:57 IST