Extreme self-confidence in sport, a necessity for excellence, is just selfishness by another name. Without absolute self-confidence, an athlete is nothing. We love it in sports people because we see them as proxy soldiers, fighting for the nation. In reality, what the sportsman fights for is much more complex: the desire to surpass himself, the desire to impose himself against the opponent and to win, the desire to be champion and hero of a nation.
We fall for the image of a great leader, even a great actor. When Kannada’s great actor Dr. Rajkumar was kidnapped by bandit Veerappan in 2000, a colleague from Bengaluru, a die-hard fan of the actor, half-expected Dr. Rajkumar to return to the city with a reformed Veerappan. We expect our heroes on the field of sport or the silver screen to perform miracles in real life – Imran Khan next door, for example.
Likewise, when India’s great cricket team leader Sourav Ganguly became Chairman of the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI), much was expected of him – well, a Cricketer-King! After such high hopes, only disenchantment must follow. Retired top-class players are unhappy that their pensions and benefits haven’t increased. Women’s cricket, at its peak after the 2017 World Cup, has become stagnant. There have been long delays in payments to domestic cricketers. The mess around the captaincy of Virat Kohli – probably India’s most important cricketer at present – was totally unnecessary and very disappointing as it showed Ganguly in a bad light.
It seems that Ganguly, like non-cricketers before him, is more interested in consolidating power. When he was elected president of the BCCI in November 2019, his mandate was to last until the end of 2020: the constitution of the BCCI mandated by the Supreme Court limits the tenure of civil servants, and the terms of Ganguly and the secretary of BCCI, Jay Shah, were due to end in 2020. But they continued to hold the reins. Lodha Committee reforms, sweeping away the old guard through new age/occupation rules, allowed a cricketer to become president; Ganguly, however, like a pawn, is one with the BCCI in efforts to water down the reforms so that the president and secretary can serve two consecutive terms, six years in all.
Saddest of all, Ganguly pursues personal business interests in a way that does no credit to the office he holds. His personal endorsement of an online fantasy cricket game is particularly infuriating, as it could drive impressionable youngsters towards gambling.
Business interests, and perhaps bad advice, are pushing even former middle-aged players to do weird things – so Ganguly, turning 50 next month, posted a cleverly crafted tweet this week suggesting he was going to make a very big decision in the near future – “as I enter this chapter of my life”. It created a buzz – was he going to quit and join politics? No, it turned out to be something much bigger than that – money. Ganguly was going to sign a new endorsement deal with an educational app.
This is the season when the courts take down clingy officials. Last month, the Supreme Court expelled politician Praful Patel from the office of the president of the Indian Football Federation (AIFF). It ended Patel’s 13-year tenure at the helm with little interest. Indian football continues to be mired in mediocrity with skewed priorities: the focus is on top-flight leagues – especially the Indian Super League – rather than grassroots play, and the academies of the AIFF closed due to lack of interest or funding. The AIFF has tried to stimulate interest by making offers for international events, but increased interest will not create players – basic infrastructure, coaching and mentoring will.
The AIFF is now in the hands of a court-appointed Committee of Trustees (CoA) – it is the third sporting body to be placed under the governance of a court-appointed CoA this year, the others being the Table Tennis Federation of India and Hockey. India.
The three federations are accused of operating unprofessionally and failing to comply with the National Sports Development Code (NSDC). Yet most federations remain defiant, refusing to change their constitutions. The Delhi High Court has now ordered the Ministry of Sports to stop funding federations that violate the NSDC.
There is a rich irony in this judicial intervention – BCCI was placed under a CoA as early as 2017, with the efforts of more than one Chief Justice of India. They had a new constitution drafted and mandated for BCCI. This constitution can only be changed with permission from the Supreme Court – yet officials have gone ahead and passed a resolution to amend it! All this under the supervision of Ganguly, the inspiring leader; but then, at 50, most people learn to stop trying to change the world and to adapt and compromise – it seems to have happened to our fiery cricketer and inspirational leader too.