In the T20 cricket World Cup currently being played in the United Arab Emirates, India (a dominant force in all forms of the game) has suffered a shock, losing its first two games to Pakistan and New Zealand and in danger of not qualifying for the playoff round. I mentioned in an earlier post that after their loss to Pakistan, some of the Indian team’s supporters, some of whose devotion border on fanaticism, vented their anger at people who had been cheering for the opposing team. While sports fans turning violent against supporters of opposing teams is sadly only too common in many sports, in India things went even further.
There was a case of a teacher who had posted on social media about supporting Pakistan who had a parent who had seen the post notify the school authorities about it and she was not only fired but also arrested. She was charged under an Indian law IPC section 153B that prohibits “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration” and was released on bail. She issued an apology later saying that she had made the comments as a joke and was a loyal Indian. The actions against her were instigated by a group known as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) which is affiliated with the Hindu nationalist group RSS that supports prime minister Narendra Modi. These people claim that all Indian citizens must support the national team or risk being labeled as traitors.
What is ironic is that there is a huge Indian diaspora around the world and you can see them at cricket matches in England, Australia, and New Zealand loudly cheering for the Indian team although they are citizens of those other countries. In fact, this same thing happens with ethnic Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, West Indians, and Sri Lankans. And it seen as quite normal. As far as I am aware, those fans are not harassed for their actions. It was the West Indians who first brought a spirit of joyous celebration to the staid world of English cricket when they sang calypsos and danced in the stands when the West Indian team was touring England. And yet, some Indians are deeply offended when the roles are reversed and Indians who for whatever reason feel like supporting their opponents express themselves.
Good natured fandom can add to the enjoyment of a game. It is nice when there is cheering during a game and who cheers for whom and for what reason should be immaterial. Some people choose their allegiance based on geographic proximity, family traditions, or ethnic or other forms of tribal identification. Others may have other reasons that are more obscure. (I long ago stopped watching American football and my dislike has only increased with the revelations of traumatic brain injuries. But if asked to pick a team I would say the Green Bay Packers because that is the “only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team based in the United States”, unlike all the other teams that are owned by billionaire cartels.)
For many sports fans, their teams are not in serious contention and may not be taking part at the highest levels. Hence some choose to cheer against a particular team, usually because that team has become dominant and people like to see the mighty humbled and the underdogs win. In the case of cricket, the teams that much of the world cheer against are India and Australia for that reason. In my case, even though I did not follow baseball or football, in baseball I was always happy to see the formerly named Cleveland Indians lose because of their name and their racist mascot. In the case of football, I like to see the Washington team lose because their owner is an awful person.
All this picking of teams and cheering for or against them could be and should be harmless fun. It is unfortunate when some people forget that it is, in the end, only a game, however much money may be involved behind the scenes.