In these depressing times, we’ve been robbed of possibly the best anti-depressant — sport. Sport is a powerful drug that elevates moods; if you’re not convinced, just go to YouTube and watch, say, the run on the football field by Sergi Roberto of Barcelona in the El Clasico against Real Madrid in April 2017. With no time left in the match, Roberto had no right to have the energy and will to make that lung-busting run across the field into Real’s half; Lionel Messi, with a bloodied mouth after a rough tackle, had no right to appear, as if by magic, at the right place at the right time to smash the ball into the goal with one touch of his left foot. The commentator went crazy — ‘It’s Messiiiii…’ It’s magic. You must agree.
Or look up Virat Kohli’s sensational knock of 82 against Australia at the 2016 T20 World Cup; Kohli touched perfection that night in Mohali — he middled every ball, found every gap, cleared the ropes every time he wanted to. Kohli’s exhibition was exhilarating.
Footage of the brilliance of Messi or Kohli or Federer reminds us of what we’re missing — the magical show has stopped. Reruns thrill, too, but they are from matches that are dead and buried; they lack the intrigue of a live match. Fans of sport, who have watched thousands of hours of live action, thirst for more live sport — to see, yet again, Messi pirouette on the edge of failure again and again before unleashing magic.
These are the romantic aspects of sport; there is a prosaic aspect, too. Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry that helps feed millions of people, from the billionaire performer to the parking attendant. Globally, the sports industry was estimated to be worth $471 billion in 2018. Last year, the IPL’s brand value was pegged at Rs47,500 crore. The Indian cricket board (BCCI) sold TV and digital rights for its matches spanning 2018-23 for Rs6,100 crore; the IPL rights for 2018-22 earned BCCI Rs16,347 crore. BCCI has other sources of revenue, too, but it’s the TV rights money that makes a massive difference in the life of a faceless domestic cricketer you’ve never heard of; a Himachal player, for instance, who may have toiled for his state in empty stadiums for years now gets a pension that makes his life comfortable.
The money-making machine has ground to a halt, too. Sport has been reduced to fantasy, sportspersons to producers of chatter for consumption online. The fields and arenas and stadiums and race tracks are stilled by Covid and filled with fear.
Matter of life and death
Formula-1 driver Ayrton Senna, dead for a little over 26 years, did not know fear. He held dangerous ideas — he believed in a particular god, and believed that that god would keep him safe on the race track. His moves on the Formula-1 track, thus, were inspired — and crazy. In 1990, he crashed into the back of Alain Prost’s car at the Japanese Grand Prix; technical data later showed that even at impact, Senna was in full acceleration; this is amazing, for Senna was behind Prost and knew well that a crash was imminent — yet he didn’t step off the gas, like the average on-road driver would have. It is this madness that made Senna different from the average man. His god didn’t save Senna, sadly, when he crashed into a wall — not into another car — at the Imola track in 1994.
It’s a good time to also remember Michael Schumacher, possibly the greatest Formula-1 driver ever. Schumacher, the king of speed, has been in medical care since December 2013, when he suffered a serious head injury after falling while skiing. His family is guarded about his privacy, but it was reported last year that the great driver is able to watch Formula-1 races on TV. Schumacher, once considered a dangerous and thrilling driver, is now a spectator.
We mortals would never be able to know what it feels to be Schumacher, or Kohli — heart pacing wildly, facing a ball from Josh Hazlewood, thousands of fans shouting his name, and yet executing a perfect whiplash cover drive! We’ll never know how frustrated Kohli would feel at being rendered irrelevant due to Covid.
In good times, sport is a matter of life and death; but when life actually becomes a matter of life and death, sport becomes irrelevant. It’s an anti-depressant, true, but medication for the mind is secondary to food and medicines to make the body whole. Sport must go through a depressing wait.
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