We won the derby match against Pakistan but did we fail to win over hearts?


Source: ANI

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being one of the 100,000 fans at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad that bled blue and cheered India as it registered a comprehensive and clinical 7 wicket victory against Pakistan.

Was it exciting? Yes, indeed. 

An India-Pakistan duel in any format brings back nostalgic memories of the rivalry, expectations of the mini battles between specific players like a Rohit-Shaheen Shah or a Virat-Rauf. Also the environment where one collectively cheers and chants slogans, sings ‘Vande Mataram’ in unision and celebrates good cricket, definitely adds to the occasion.

Was the experience memorable and delightful? Far from it.

I have been deliberating about this over the last few days and one just has to ask oneself the fundamental question about why does one want to watch live sports in stadium?

Why does one want to invest time, money and energy to travel across countries to experience this first hand, in the age of OTT where one can enjoy the match from different angles, with commentary, with replays from the comfort of one’s home theatre with close friends, whilst munching onto something delicious?!

It’s to make memories through shared experiences, not just with one’s friends and families but with fellow fans, strangers from diverse background but who are united by the love of the sport and the team that they back.

In that context, not having more than 10 Pakistani fans in the entire stadium, made the experience bland and devoid of the banter, competitive tension that one expects when watching live sport between two rivals or what one has experienced in prior duels in Manchester in 2019 and Adelaide in 2015.

Especially when nearly a quarter of the ground was vacant, the BCCI could have sold or gifted a certain segment to Pakistani fans, journalists, celebrities or diginatories.

A chance to express our philosophy of “Atithi Devo Bhavo” was grandly missed! It could have been a dual trump card of adding to the cricket fan’s experience as well as to be a gracious and gregarious host.

Talking about vacant seats, by now it is well documented that the organizers have done a shoddy job of seat allocation either by releasing very few of them for sales to the public or by gifting too many of them to corporate or political allies or by reselling a bunch of them via aggregators who are bundling them with exhorbitant hospitality packages.

Perhaps, like FIFA, had they finalized the dates and had implemented a fair balloting system six to twelve months before the event, we would not have been in this predicament?

If the tickets aren’t sold up until a day or two before the match, why can’t they be given out for free to school kids, orphanages and other enthusiasts in the city? If not human goodwill, it could surely drive a lot of political mileage?!

Now, I for one have no issues with the commercial objective of maximizing profits through gate revenues, if there is demand for it. 

Clearly if one can’t even sell a full house for an India Pakistan match in a nation of a billion fans, something seems amiss.

I get that gate revenues pales in comparison to the billions that flow in via broadcasting, sponsorship, advertising and merchandising but to not respect and take care of the fans, the core constituents that make the game and those other revenue sources viable, is a cardinal sin and will come back to haunt the custodians of the game if left unchecked.

Perhaps you are wondering that ODI cricket is losing its charm in the era of T20s? Possibly. But the record breaking 35 million concurrent viewers on Disney Hotstar seems to suggest otherwise

Maybe with free OTT streaming available in one’s palms on relatively cost-effective data packages discentivizes fans to travel all the way to stadiums to spend 12 odd hours in the heat?

That’s exactly where the in-stadia experience needs to kick in, that one enjoys at The Lords or The Oval or The MCG and I mean for the common fans and not just the hospitality box guests.

Like with most things, it needs to begin with the entrance. For a ground with an official capacity of 132,000 it was surprising to note that there are only 4 gates?!

Even smaller grounds like the ones at The Chepauk, Chinnaswamy, Mohali and Wankhede have more than ten to ensure safer and saner crowd management.

In Ahmedabad, it took us an hour to get in but felt like fearful struggle, especially with a kid in tow. 

There was reassuringly ample security at the ground – I believe over 30,000 guards to protect a 100,000 of us but what I can’t fathom is despite the checks, why can’t we carry our bags with us like we can elsewhere in the world? If one is to spend ten hours seated somewhere, surely one would need a few odd things, including water, snacks, medicines and other paraphernalia?

I must appreciate that the stadium had many food & drink stalls all around its perimeter and they had waiters coming up to our stands to sell them, but I think one should be allowed to carry one’s own meals, especially if one wants to make a picnic like experience out of the outing, as one see the Kiwis, South Africans and Aussies do at their respective stadia.

Some of them even have mini pools to allow families to beat the heat?!

Talking about the heat, it didn’t help that the largest stadium in the world didn’t have enough ventilation in built in it’s design and with Ahmedabad burning at a breeze-free 36 degrees, it was scorching hot. 

Luckily the paper placard turn fans and the performances of the Indian batters and bowlers kept us distracted and sane!

But not many were that lucky ~ I heard about 300 of them, albeit just 0.3%, fainted during the day. I witness near my stand and I heard of another instance where a friend’s boss blacked out and fell flat on his face and had to be flown out to Mumbai to replace three of his teeth.

I am glad they had ambulances in the stadium to tackle these emergencies but clearly this is not an experience that you would want any fan to leave or live with?

During the high voltage India-Pakistan World Cup match in Manchester in 2019, my brother-in-law and I had the exciting opportunity to participate in a half-time contest against two Pakistani fans on the actual ground and there were plent of other fan engagement contests activated via the mobile phone.

In Ahmedabad, not only were mobile networks jammed under the garb of “security” (although I presume the real reason being that organizers were worried that fans would stream the live match via their mobiles a few seconds ahead of the official feed) and at half-time we were entertained by some of the top singers in the country, a program that was farcically christened as the “opening ceremony” during the 12th match of the tournament, and one that was not even televised to the public.

Now, mind you, we thoroughly enjoyed the show put on by Arijit-Shankar-Neha-Sukhwinder & Co. and danced to their tunes but one wonders why didn’t the 13th edition of the ODI World Cup not have an official opening ceremony ahead of the first match that was played at the very stadium?

If the only reason was to give the India-Pakistan game special treatment, like the organizers did with the reserve day ruling at the recently held Asia Cup, then why not schedule this derby match as the kickoff game, when Indian cricket have all the powers in the world?

Talking about being farcical, the other glaring anomaly was an appointed flag bear at the boundary, who held a massive, “Pakistan Ki Shaan” flag and waved it everytime a Pakistani player did well and that was flashed on the big screen on the ground and on television.

Perhaps to create an illusion of the non-existent bipartisan support?

Surely, just by playing “Dil Dil Pakistan” in the ground wouldn’t have changed Pakistan’s fortunes on the day but coach Mickey Arthur’s statement that this felt like just a “BCCI event” and not an “ICC event” was telling and rings true.

Why can’t we be gregarious hosts and create a balanced and hospitable atmosphere for the teams we are hosting and make them feel welcomed? 

I am not expecting Indian fans to cheer for Pakistan (although it was great to see them do that in Hyderabad when they played Sri Lanka!) but it was appaling and embarrassing to see many of my fellow Indian fans boo and hoot Babar Azam when he stepped out for the toss and to bat.

Why chant “Jai Shri Ram”, anti-Pakistan slogans in an uncouth manner and display large political banners that screamed “Baar Baar Modi Sarkar” during a sporting event?

There was even a “fake” Modiji hired who walked around stands and waved to the people and mimicked our Prime Minister ~ now whether he was hired as part of political marketing campaign or was a wisecrack idea of a fan is anyone’s guess!

And when I stepped out of the stadium, I read about multiple complaints about Rizwan praying to his God. Apparently, now that’s against the spirit of the game

By that count, wonder how many players would have been booked for looking up to thank the Almighty or kissing the cross or a holy chain?

The point is none of these antics and shenanigans does add much to the sport, to the fan’s match experience and honestly is beneath us, especially when we are hosts of a global tournament and as a nation, our economy and our sporting teams are doing way better than many in the region.

But I suppose, jingoistic chest-thumping is signs of our times or perhaps part of a modern fan’s arsenal to intimidate the opposition?

As hosts, organizers and as fans, we have a lot to learn from other nations and other sports.

We may build the largest stadia in the world but till we don’t have the largesse, we wont win many hearts and the sport that we love and it’s fans will be left poorer.

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Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being one of the 100,000 fans at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad that bled blue and cheered India as it registered a…
The post We won the derby match against Pakistan but did we fail to win over hearts? appeared first on RevSportz | Latest Sports News. 

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