Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sports: An Individual v/s Country debate

Sport has the power to unite people belonging to different caste and creed to support and pursue a common goal. There may be problems and differences within, but when it comes to a common dream, all will fight and show their support to the cause. Like Cricket. Cricket is a team game. Some players may score a century, some may get out on the very first ball. But all the players aspire to win the match at hand. And when it happens, we rejoice. That’s what matters. Same applies for Football, Hockey etc.

But there are some sports where Individual players play against each other. Sports like Lawn Tennis, Formula – 1 (I am considering this as a sport despite what some Indian government officials think about it) have players / drivers playing against each other. They may belong to a country, but their primary allegiance is towards themselves / their teams. Fernando Alonso winning an F1 race will be cheered by Spain, but he’s actually playing for a team with Italian roots (Ferrari). So technically, there are 2 countries supporting Alonso to win. Sahara Force India may be a team partially owned by Indian corporates, but it’s based in UK and employees a Mexican and a German driver. What I am trying to explain is that these games are (largely) not intended to pit country against country and it should be treated that way by the fans.

Asian Games is just round the corner and some of the high profile Indian Tennis players have already backed out of it. Players like Leander Paes, Somdev Devvarman, Sania Mirza*, Rohan Bopanna are instead focusing on some ATP events. While the obvious reaction to this may be to question their allegiance and commitment to the country they represent, the answer to all this lies elsewhere and the initial reaction is just a knee-jerk one.

Why Tennis players backed out? For this, we need to dig deep to understand how Lawn Tennis actually operates at an international level. Players play for a specific purpose – and it is to rake in as much points as they possibly can and improve / maintain their ranking. There are umpteen events happening across the globe throughout the year. Winning games at Tennis events can improve your points-tally thereby impacting your rank. Needless to say, winning Grand Slams can have a huge impact as compared to other ATP events. And then comes the “ATP World Tour Finals” where only the top ranked players can participate. Although not a like-to-like comparison, but a Masters tournament is similar to UEFA Champions League in Football where only the best participate. And to even participate, you need to be among the top 8 ranked player in the singles and doubles division. If you are among the top 8, you play in some ATP events to maintain your rank. If you are not among the top 8, you have to play in tournaments to improve. Either ways, you have to compete in ATP events. Asian Games, despite the obvious importance to represent your country, fails to make the cut.

This is how Leander Paes defended his decision – "This is my bread and butter and at the end of the day my ranking has dropped to 35 in the world. Hence I have to get some job security for next year. I have to play a long fall season, through Kuala Lumpur as well as Tokyo, these two tournaments are the exact dates in the nine-day span of the events in Asian Games"

Can we question their commitment to their nation? NO. They are just doing what any rationally minded player will do – protecting their turf (read: ranking) on the international scene. That’s how Tennis works and players cannot be blamed for making a tough choice. Questioning their commitment towards their nation is totally uncalled for. Yes, it’s our loss when top Tennis players like Leander Paes drop out from Asian games.  Before the games even begun, we have already lost 2-3 medals at the very least.

But, one man’s loss can turn out to be another’s gain. On the positive side, we can look forward to some youngsters (Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, Sanam Singh, Divij Sharan and Ankita Raina) getting much needed international exposure in the Asian Games. They can enter the games with less expectation and compete with some of the top players. Also, some of the other events can now stake claim to be the best Indian contingent in terms of medal tally. 

It’s a huge loss to India – no doubt – but there are opportunities as well for the taking.

*Update - Sania Mirza has decided to play in the Asian Games. That's something for the Indian fans to cheer about!


  1. I wonder how the public take it upon themselves to question loyalties of those who have represented the country, when all they do is sit and complain and pass judgements. Irrespective of the reasons for which players choose to or not choose to participate in a tournament, we shouldn't blindly go questioning their loyalties. Each has their own agenda, right?


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