Have you watched DD Sports recently? Has anyone watched it? Has Mrinal Pande watched it? We all had to watch it during the Commonwealth Games, and since then, it has been showing free reruns of that event—and the 2010 Asiad, for good measure. It’s a channel we don’t get our feet wet in if we don’t have to.
Last week, however, I wandered into it and found myself in the finale of the 53rd Senior National Athletics in Ranchi. The last event was the women’s 4x400 metres relay. The camera seemed to be 400 metres away and the commentator read out from his list who was running in which lane. There were no close-ups. The runners were lined up, but the race didn’t start. There was no explanation, and the commentator filled in the time with poetic nothings in Hindi: “The hearts of the people of Jharkhand are overflowing with the memories of the 53rd Senior National Athletics.... They will never forget the hridayasparsheeya moments they have been witness to...the lakes and rivers, the hills and skies of Jharkhand....”
The race still hadn’t started, so the studio man took the cue and cut to shots of the lakes and rivers, hills and skies, and some really beautiful flowers, which I was told were palash. The commentator was waning eloquent—that is, repeating himself for the second time—when the camera cut to the race, which had started some ten seconds ago.
Now here is the amazing thing: though he had the list of runners, and presumably had had enough time to become familiar with the favourites and their names, not once over the 1,600 metres of the race did the commentator identify a single face, or even a team. He even said several times, “The team in blue is in the lead”—which we could see for ourselves, of course—and in the end, only three seconds after the race was over, with a really dramatic finish by the Kerala anchor, did he manage to identify the team. Not once was the quality of the race commented on. Actually, it’s rather a matter of wonder that he identified the winner correctly. After all, the odds were seven to one against him.Those who watched the event, or read of it, will remember that the lights in the stadium failed later that evening, and medals were given out by torchlight and the lights of mobile phones. There were no foreign athletes there, after all.
Next evening, I switched on the South Asian Football Federation finals in Kathmandu and found, to my horror, the same commentator (or his tribesman, anyway) on Star Sports, this time sounding forth in English: “Yes, that is well cleared by Subroto Paul...I think that’s how it is pronounced, though most non-Bengalis won’t know...I had a very good Bengali friend when I was small...I used to eat rasgullas at his house...they are sweets made from...er...thickened milk...er...dipped in sugar syrup...they are the sweetest things I....”
I pressed ‘mute’ here and switched channels a little later, and after two hours, I had the consolation of hearing that India had been beaten 2-0 by Afghanistan. Well, bully for Afghanistan. But the truth is, the quality of India’s football was much the same as that of the Indian’s commentary. India’s best simply kicked and ran, as we did in our childhood on gravelly grounds. But these professionals were playing on lush green. There was very little passing game, and most passes went awry. We’ve now had foreign coaches for quite some time. And better than that, we’ve had the English Premier League on TV for some 15 years.
If we had had that exposure in our college days, we’d have been really good footballers! Look at the tools our players have: not only foreign coaches, but video analysis, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, conditioning, diet.... All that is icing, really. If they only watched European football for the 20 hours or so we get it every weekend, sitting together as a team, they’d be a much better eleven.
Why are we wasting time on either DD Sports or a football team? Let’s junk both. The villains who run Bombay cinema are fond of excusing themselves thus: “Films can only reflect the state of society.” Does that have to be the information & broadcasting and the sports ministries’ excuse? Can’t they give us something to aspire to?
It's because these players wanted to play at all on 'gravel' that India has a football team. The teams don't play on gravel, by the way, and Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Jarkhand, and West Bengal have a number football grounds.
What I wanted to express essentially was, that people might play soccer on any surface, but at least they play. I am sure that India can be a soccer power, but even people like me might join a game, if I am much younger, playing with very young friends.
I have fond memories of DD Sport. In the pre-cable TV era of the 1980s it offered a comprehensive view of national sporting events for an hour, once a week. In it you could get to see interesting events like the National Athletic Championships, where it would be hard to guess whether the athletes were running or walking. And then there was the football, where it was always Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedian Sporting playing between each other. Other events covered included, among others, the yearly boat races in Kerala and the Kabaddi tournaments in Bihar. The commentary, of course, was as unbearable as the content, but we had little choice in License-Permit Raj India. I'm surprised to hear that the program still exists today, and is relatively unchanged from the times of yore.
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