Amidst strict condemnations and pillory from across the world, including a few from Olympic athletes, Olympics emerged successful with minimal commotion. Even though it had been a huge risk of lives of millions of people across the world with the COVID-19 pandemic firmly holding the country, Japan has managed to survive the potentially irretrievable ignominy. There was a point when every spectator was on the verge of the seat to call “I told you so” first, when the first coronavirus case was recorded in the Olympic village days before the games commenced. But, the eyes of suspicion got distracted in the great spectacle of the Olympics that Japan had pulled off. With the record breaking number of medals earned by the Indians this season, there are definitely a lot of takeaways from Tokyo Olympics 2020 (conducted almost a year later in 2021 due to the pandemic).
Apart from the medal tally of India, the most exciting competition to win the medals was between the USA and China. It was neck and neck until finally the USA achieved the victory of winning the most number of medals this season. The change in dynamics of geopolitics has given rise to an unspoken race towards achieving the super power status by both China and the USA. This is being reflected in many arenas including in sports. In Olympics 2020, it was seemingly a war between China and the USA to win the ‘most medals’ title. Although this hints at the newly prevailing USA versus China competition in the world order, it is not new for humankind to associate war with sports.
Sports, in a way, is considered a moral equivalent of war. The innate nature of human beings as a race to continually engage in conflicts has significantly contributed to the creation of games that are sometimes as brutal as it could get. Humans receive a great deal of satisfaction and emotional fulfillment through sports. Games like football and boxing can be taken as examples to substantiate human’s needs to engage in combative and brutal sports that resemble war. Through the lens of psychology, one can view sports as the entity that satisfies the same sense of needs as warfare. Both sports and warfare provide a sense of belonging and unity. The great political thinker Hobbes believed that human beings live in a state of war for three reasons: competition, diffidence and glory. According to him, these three factors quenched the innate desires and needs of humans. Now, it is possible to see the striking similarities between sports and warfare as sports too, fulfil these three criteria perfectly.
Moreover, sports build character, discipline and exceptional patriotism which are also the qualities warfare instills in humans. We play, compete and feel the patriotism towards our country vicariously through our players that represent our country. Victories and defeats in cricket matches and in Olympics are felt collectively by each and every citizen of one’s country. This sense of oneness is cultivated through sports. This is quite similar to warfare where patriotism is an essential trait of every soldier.
While patriotism is a cultivated collective feeling, sports also have several individualistic qualities that can be observed in warfare. Sports are a test for one’s abilities even at the smallest levels. Victory in sports brings one glory, which translates to power. This is very similar to wars where the fight is for a victory that brings one glory and power. In addition, the by-product of glory is rivalry. The sports team that loses a match holds rivalry against its opponents until it fights back and wins. Rivalry is also a feature of warfare, as we already know. Thus, the similarities between sports and warfare are endless.
But, the main difference between sports and warfare is that the latter causes destruction and sorrow while the former ensures peace and healthy competition among humankind. This is why sports are a perfect alternative for warfare. Sports ensure that the rivalry and combative spirit are channelized into a peaceful competition. Thus, Sports became a conflict-free way of denouncing war and ensuring harmony.
Looking through this perspective, one might understand the need for nations to compete relentlessly through sports as it is the stage where a nation proves its prowess. At present, the silent rivalry between the United States of America and China was palpable in Olympics 2020 that spiced up the competition this year. The victory of the USA in winning the most medals was symbolic of the nation to announce to the world that it is still the boss. But, the brilliant game of chase between China and the USA also showcased the might of the eastern empire and its lofty ambitions to become the next superpower of the world.
Far behind in this medal race was the second most populous country in the world, India, which secured only seven medals in total. Even though this is the highest number in the Olympic history for India, the result displays the abysmal state of sports in the country. It is not that Indians are not into sports. In fact, the world knows the cricket fever that India permanently suffers from. There is also a newfound respect for games like Kabbadi and wrestling achieved through excessive promotion across the country. The recent agenda of the government to popularise sports and weed out the stigma surrounding them have raised the collective spirits of Indians. Special mention goes to the movies based on real sports people that have triggered a nationalistic fervour among the people of India to win medals and awards for our country. Even though the movies are sometimes sated with pseudo nationalism and jingoism, these have a catalytic role in pushing people to pursue sports professionally. But these measures are only drops in the ocean of things that need to be done.
In addition, while such movies can be encouraged in mobilising people towards sports and motivate them to engage in sports, external motivation is inarguably only momentary. External motivation does not last for more than a few days or even for a few minutes sometimes. It is the consistent perseverance that a sportsman needs to succeed in the field of sports. And this perseverance and discipline can only be achieved through the motivation that is intrinsic. As the Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bhindra told the New York Times that “when he competed in the shooting nationals as a youth, there were 200 entrants. These days the competition draws 20,000 plus another 20,000 who did not make the cut”. The excessive competition arising from the ephemeral interest in sports makes the process of picking the potential medalist complex. Thus, the government should work on fostering the ground where the real aspirants of sports are identified and encouraged to achieve laurels.
A classic example of this phenomenon is the chess frenzy in India that has been prevailing for almost a decade now. The country is filled with budding chess players who are all competing like never before to achieve fame and glory. This is mainly due to the fact that the Indian parents are convinced of their wards possessing unearthed abilities of a grandmaster. As a result, they drive their children into the world of chess tournaments without ensuring their children’s interest in this game. To the parents, chess is another puzzle that could be solved through coaching classes and internalizing opening positions and end game tactics. And yet, the number of grandmasters from India at the global level is not as extraordinary as the number of children that queue up to pay the entry fee in every tournament. This state of affairs is due to the ephemeral motivation to succeed and yearning for a short route to fame and glory.
Towards achieving the end of gathering sportsmen from nooks and corners of our nation, the allocation of funds, expanding training facilities and enabling exposure to international standards of sports in recent years is indeed a laudable effort taken by the government. But, there is still a long way to go. And we are forced to look askance at these measures as one of the grand gestures of the present government that brings no real results. But, as they say, “Hope is what we look for, when everything is in ruins”.
India has been the homeland for civilizations and wars have been fought by valiant warriors in this country. With more than a hundred and thirty seven crore population today, the country is filled with warriors who are potent enough to bring glory to our nation through the moral equivalent of war, sports! India must learn that the spirit of humans to fight for glory is still buried within them. It is high time we extract the gem from the ore and blow the minds off of the world in the future Olympics.
– Subiksha Kumar (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: firstpost.com