May 15, 2008

Fair play and justice take a ‘free hit’

By H Natarajan

Those who believe that there is no sense of fairplay and justice in this world need not look beyond the happenings in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

First there was the furore created by the presence of cheerleaders. I have no issues with the cheerleaders; the IPL brand of T20 cricket has a carnival touch to it and the splash of glitz and glamour is not out of place and especially appeals for the younger generation. But what hurts is: How can the moral police justify the presence of the cheer girls in public when the bar girls have been stopped from earning their livelihood through dancing in private. The bar girls were fully clothed from top to bottom compared to the revealing outfits that we get to see in high-profile places, especially in the metros, and kept their distance from customers while dancing. Yet, the state government deemed, in their sense of judgment, that what was happening was vulgar and needed to be banned. It was an action that drove thousands of families, including young children and old parents depended on the salaries of the dancers, to great miseries. Many of the bar dancers ended up committing suicides.

The cheer girls, in comparison to the bar dancers, wear skimpy outfit and showing copious skin. Most importantly, it’s been done in a public place frequented by even young children. Now, if the alien culture of cheer girls is okay, why discriminate our desi bar girls? The question is relevant to cricket because RR Patil, the State Home Minister who is also the second in command to CM Vilasrao Deshmukh, is from the National Congress Party headed by Mr Sharad Pawar, who is also the chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Of course, Patil – he wears the tag of “Mr Clean” and is otherwise a refreshingly different from most politicians and is– would like to point out (and possibly rightly, too) that some of the bar dancers are also doubling up as call girls. But the point is: Were they guilty of that in the place they were dancing? If so, then they girls and the bar owner should have been arrested and the bar closed. To condemn the entire profession for the ‘sins’ of a few was a bit too much. The sad irony is that many of the girls who were making an honest living by merely dancing were forced to take up prostitution to feed their families.

Justice was not seen to be done again when Charu Sharma was sacked as the Chief Executive of Bangalore Royal Challengers – a convenient scapegoat – when the guys who were mainly responsible for the poor showing escaped the guillotine. The flamboyant Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Challengers, has gone on record to say that he regretted not being involved in the selection of the team at the auction and went by the judgment of Charu and captain Rahul Dravid.

Who can pull up Mallya for his own mistake which he has admitted himself? And does Mallya have the cricketing expertise to select international players? Most importantly, his statement unambiguously reveal that his team has been let down at the very selection stage itself which Dravid was principally responsible. Yet, Dravid escapes the axe while Charu cops it! Reportedly, coach Venkatesh Prasad, too, would have been shown the exit, but for Dravid’s intervention.

Clearly, there is a miscarriage of justice in both of the cases mentioned above.

And indications are that there are attempts to get Harbhajan Singh off the hook or, at worst, relatively lightly for an offence which has a maximum penalty of life ban. The BCCI has appointed an enquiry commissioner, Sudhir Nanavati, to probe the off-spinner’s slapping of a fellow-player on the field of play. And Nanavati had revealed that the footage of the incident was shocking while match referee Farokh Engineer went on record while telling journalists that "what actually happened is a lot more serious than you guys think." Yet, the probe may prove to be a waste of time and money with Harbhajan, at best, escaping with a slap on the wrists. Rashid Patel and the late Raman Lamba copped 13 and 10 months bans respectively after a disgraceful, on-field fight during a 1991 Duleep Trophy. Harbhajan actually slapped an India team-mate. If he is let-off with anything less than at least the tenure of ban slapped on either Patel or Lamba, the BCCI would not be seen in good light. Yes, there would be pressure on the BCCI to reprieve Harbhajan who is a key member of the Indian team, but it’s equally important to send a resounding message across – especially to players who may think that they can get away with anything because of their status.

The happening in recent weeks reminds me of what George Orwell, the great English novelist and essayist, had said: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”