Why politicians prefer to ride piggyback on Indian cricket team’s success

Badminton icons Chirag Shetty, Saina Nehwal speak out on the ‘stepmotherly’ treatment for other disciplines

Team India pose with the BCCI prize money of Rs 125 crores at Wankhede (photo: @BCCI/X)
Team India pose with the BCCI prize money of Rs 125 crores at Wankhede (photo: @BCCI/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It takes some doing to go against the tide and Chirag Shetty, the world No.1 doubles player in badminton along with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and an Olympics medal hopeful has done it. He has hit out at the Maharashtra government, the state he comes from, for showing a ‘stepmotherly treatment’ to other sports disciplines vis-à-vis cricket in the wake of India winning the T20 World Cup.

 In an all-too-familiar replay of the manner politicians ride piggyback on the national cricket team’s success, the Maharashtra government wasted no time in hosting the four Mumbai-based players for a mega felicitation, a cash purse of Rs 11 crores for them while deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis went a step further. He suggested the need for building a modern cricket stadium with one lakh-plus capacity at the Maximum City, despite the existence of Wankhede, Brabourne as well as DY Patil in Navi Mumbai and the premium on land.

This, of course, is in addition to the staggering Rs 125 crore bonus to the players, support staff and selectors announced by the BCCI secretary Jay Shah soon after India’s victory in the final in Barbados on 29 June. The shuttler ace’s contention is while he has nothing against cricket, it’s disheartening that there was not even a felicitation, forget a cash reward from them when he was a key member of India’s historic Thomas Cup triumph in 2022.        

The Thomas Cup, incidentally, is an equivalent of winning the World Cup in badminton – but the question is if the enormity of their achievement had sunk in with the masses in the first place. The bias towards cricket from the powers that-be is an age-old debate but when decorated champions like Chirag Shetty or Saina Nehwal weigh in on the subject, it drives home the point as to why India still cannot be called a sporting nation despite the recent progress and their medal conversion rate has been so poor.    

Here's what Saina, an Olympic medallist and a former world No.1, had to say in a podcast: “The other sports are so tough. Why not other sports? Imagine players getting injured every other day and still performing. Satwik (Rankireddy) and Chirag (Shetty), who won the Thailand Open, every day having issues here and there; putting tapes on their bodies and still winning. These kinds of players should be celebrated more like cricketers.”

What is it then that separates cricket from the rest of the sporting disciplines? As the sea of humanity at the Marine Drive the other day underlined the cliché once again that it’s cricket and Bollywood which unite India in the truest sense of the term, it’s a no-brainer that the decision-makers would lose no opportunity to jump at the bandwagon at the slightest opportunity.    

If the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to console the players at the Indian dressing room after their World Cup final defeat in Ahmedabad was a calculated one for the benefit of the broadcasters, so is the BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s effort to bask in the reflected glory of Rohit Sharma’s team winning the T20 World Cup. One couldn’t miss the ubiquitous Shah, son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, being present right through during the day of the victory celebrations in an India shirt.

There is no room for any subtlety in this now – while other sport will continue to remain children of a lesser god despite all their achievements. Truth be told, things have improved substantially in recent years in terms of government spending for Olympic sport as well as the media coverage, not to speak of an increase in the number of medals, but to expect them to match the hype and hoopla of cricket will remain a pipe dream.

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