Deeply wounded Indian fans who may still be grappling with the dismissal of the Men in Blue from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 have something to cheer about. Saina Nehwal has created history by becoming the first Indian woman shuttler to attain the world number one ranking. This, after her closest competitor, Spain’s Carolina Marin, lost in the India Open Super Series semifinal.
Before Saina, veteran badminton player, Prakash Padukone, had the distinction of being the number 1 men’s badminton player. However, Saina has become the very first Indian woman to achieve this feat. But this is only one of the several firsts that the Hyderabad-based player has to her credit; for she was the first to be a junior world champion, besides being the first to clinch a Super Series title.
Saina, who has come to be an inspiration for thousands of budding sportswomen in India, asserted, “It is tough to be in top-five for the last seven years. I hope to maintain it for some more time. I feel good. At the same time I have to work hard everyday, train everyday. It is too tiring. I want to be the best. It is my personal choice, fight against the top players. I want to be one of the top players in the world.” Adding a tinge of practicality and precociousness to her aspirations, Saina said, “Everyone dreams of winning World Championship, Olympics and I am one of them. It is not that right now, I want everything. I want to be a little cool and relaxed and enjoy my game. It’s my job and I want to enjoy it.”
If you ask me, Saina’s historic achievement could not have come at a more opportune time. Having been recently ousted from the cricket World Cup, certain sections in India once again betrayed the nation’s embarrassing obsession with cricket to the world. With a news channel that claims to be the undisputed number 1 in the media business, running a campaign as juvenile and inane as #ShameInSydney, we showed once again the outright absence of sportsmanship that has been a part of our cricket culture. However, what has been extremely heartening amidst this drama, is the rise of a prudent voice which has sought to question the double standards of the Indian fans who claim to worship cricket as a religion. If one truly loves a sport, they cannot subject sportspersons to mindless ridicule and criticism simply for having had a bad day on the field. Moreover, some responsible sections of the media, for example The Headlines Today, went a step further and criticized the very idea of treating a certain sport as a religion.
We may glibly pride ourselves on being a nation where cricket is synonymous to religion, but such an analogy is a deeply dangerous one. Firstly, it does not allow Indian cricketers the scope to err, a liberty that all sportspersons ought to have. Secondly, and more dangerously, this preoccupation with cricket completely neglects other sports in the country. Enough can simply not be said to explain the injustice that we as a nation mete out to those playing sports other than cricket. Not only are we as a sports audience an extremely unfair one, but institutionally too, we are a country that subjects other sports to systemic biases.
Saina Nehwal’s recent feat must not be celebrated for a day and forgotten. It should be a constant reminder to us that as a nation we have an array of achievements in the field of sports to revel in. All we need to do is to look beyond a particular sport, and make ourselves a people which enjoys and respects the spirit behind all sports, instead of worshipping one.
Image Source: The Viewspaper