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Love, sports and dhokha

Hockey isn’t particularly glamorous. Actresses and models, seeking parity in status and glamour, thus flock to cricket, not hockey or other earthy sports. In cricket, some relationships do result in marriage

Love, sports and dhokha

Rohit Mahajan

Cop accused of rape — if you heard such news, you’d not fall off your chair in surprise. But if the cop is a national hockey player, celebrated winner of a bronze medal at the Olympics, you’d be forced to take note — for didn’t he, along with others, make your eyes moist when he raised the Indian flag at the Tokyo Olympics three years ago? Can such a man be a criminal?

Just days after being appointed a DSP in Punjab Police for his heroics with the national team, Varun Kumar was accused of rape by a Bengaluru woman; it is alleged that she was 17 when Varun started a relationship with her after they got in touch on Instagram. She alleges that their relationship lasted five years, ending when he refused to marry her and ‘ghosted’ her — a term signifying termination of communication on electronic devices. A POCSO case was slapped on Varun and he’s out of the national team for now and could miss the Paris Olympic Games.

Hockey isn’t particularly glamorous, a poor cousin to cricket — actresses and models, seeking parity in status and glamour, thus flock to cricket, not hockey, let alone more earthy sports like wrestling or weightlifting. In cricket, some relationships do result in marriage.

But hockey stars, donning the national colours, have charisma, too; weighed with gold and silver won on the field, akin to wounds on the bodies of ancient warriors, they too exert certain gravitational pull on the opposite sex. Varun’s case has eerie parallels with the case of former India captain Sardar Singh, who got engaged to Ash Bhogal, who had become the first Sikh girl to play for the junior England hockey team. Just a teenager, Ash Bhogal fell for Sardar and they got engaged a decade ago. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, they were often seen together, and she would wave his No. 8 jersey wildly. She visited him in India, and photos of her observing ‘karwa chauth’ appeared on social media. They made an in interesting couple — the teen and the relatively avuncular India star, possibly the last great Indian player. Then things went insanely awry — she accused him of raping her on the false promise of marriage; she alleged that Sardar would beat her up, and that he forced her to undergo an abortion. Ash spent months in India, seeking justice — then it seemed she saw the futility of it all: long-drawn investigation and judicial processes, which could possibly affect her mental health. She gave up and went back to the UK.

At that time, one wondered if it were a case of a relationship going horribly wrong; but the case never went to court, for a Punjab Police panel gave him the clean chit in the absence of evidence. But what if her allegations, especially of physical abuse and forcible abortion, had some substance and were not figments born of pique and anger? Was Ash Bhogal denied justice?

In the case of the cricketers, it’s possible that girls who chase them won’t file police cases. Most of them probably know that they’re just making up numbers for the players — that flings won’t turn into relationships, and certainly not into marriages.

Five years back, the Hardik Pandya-KL Rahul controversy flared up after the two made ‘misogynistic’ comments about women in a TV talk show — about girls who make themselves available to cricketers for a brief fling, only to be discarded for more girls who’re simply queuing up for a brush with fame and infamy. There was a maelstrom of controversy, and the two were accused of ‘misogyny’ and demeaning women.

They apologised and were punished by the cricket board. But it’s essential to understand the context fully, including the modern sexual mores of the young, the transitory nature of love and relationships, and the ignominy of — horror, horror! — being single and deemed undeserving of love.

Cricketers turn millionaires overnight in these days of T20 leagues, some of them barely out of their teens, and they’re immediately faced with the temptation very difficult to resist. At the IPL parties during Lalit Modi’s times, people paid to get in, and the most beautiful girls, including models and cheerleaders, would have access to an exclusive area where they could hobnob with the stars. The players had beautiful girls throwing themselves on them, and it’s not difficult to understand why the players consider them as just a number, to be discarded. Is it misogyny, or hatred for women, then, that Pandya was exhibiting when he talked about picking up girls at parties or nightclubs? It wasn’t hatred, surely! It was, if we are to crudely apply business terms to human beings, a case of diminishing value of the girls due to their easy availability.

Five years after the Pandya-Rahul controversy, it seems that in these days of easily available substitutes after breakups, the devaluation of love and lovers is much more mainstream — it would be hard to call that misogyny. It’s leading to distrust, insecurity and mental distress; but then, perhaps love never lacked such accompaniments.

Varun Kumar’s case is under investigation, and one can only hope justice would be served. 

#Cricket #Hockey

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