Sports and nationalism in India

by megha sharma(@megha0111) on 5th October 2016

​The views of historians and novelists  on sports and nationalism are worth noticing!

George Orwell, a novelist, defines nationalism as the worst enemy of peace. He says, “The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.” 

In his essay, “The Sporting Spirit,” Orwell says that sport can be just as violent as war. The idea of fair play is only a myth. The athletes feel the same hateful and violent feelings as do soldiers in combat. He called the sports as “war minus shooting.” 

Sports act as the glue that binds people together and offers a collective identity at local, national and supra-national levels. It is one of the most emotional forms through which we experience and express our nationalism. The teams or the individual who plays at a national or international level does not represent religion or caste but the region and nationalities. 

E.J. Hobsbawm, a British Marxist historian, in his book, “Inventing Tradition”  mentions the inventions of national tradition. According to him, Sporting pastimes, rituals, ceremony, institutions, costumes, anthems, symbols, plays are a great invention of tradition. Along with the participants, spectators of the sports event are also the symbol of being a part of the nation. Even any individual, who is present in the sports event cheering up, also becomes a symbol of his nation. Sport is important in the emergence of national identity.

On April 2, 2011, when we won the Cricket world cup, the streets of India were flooded. There were strangers embracing and sharing their praising words. It was not a matter of being a Hindu or Muslim, a lower caste or an upper caste. It was an Indian Identity that emerged and transformed a diverse community into united.    Ramchandra Guha, an Indian historian, and writer, in an article in Outlook magazine, said that the institutions that keep us together are those bequests of the British: the civil service, the army, the railways, and cricket. All the linguistic, pluralistic, regional, caste barriers are superseded by the feeling of brotherhood and nationalism. 

The feeling of national identity even resides in the heart of Indians residing in other countries of the world. Indian Diaspora across the world rooting for the Indian team is the identity of a nationalist sentiment. It was clearly seen in the cricket match recently held in Florida. It was the first time when America hosted the international cricket match. Half of the stadium was filled with Indian immigrants. The national flags flying all over the stadium, people cheering the Indian players, praising India in a common voice, depicts the Indian Diaspora’s feeling of being a part of India. Sport not only has the power to influence community identity but the nationalist sentiments also. Sports manage to maintain the links between the Indian Diaspora and Indian culture.

Sports create a shared experience which inculcates a collective consciousness among the people. There is no powerful medium than sports to inspire and bring people together for a common purpose. Other than cricket, sports event like Olympics is of phenomenal importance to create a feeling of nationalism. Recently when summer Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, every Indian living in any part of India, belonging to any religion or caste realised that they are the part of a single identity “Indian”. The badminton women’s singles final between PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin was being watched by Indians sitting in different corners of the Nation. But they all shared a common thought. Irrespective of different caste, religion or region, they all had a common wish of PV Sindhu winning the finals. It shows how the citizens of our nation who holds different opinions and views for different incidents held the common imagination of winning the Gold medal. This is the strength of sports, which makes our nation united and brings us under a common umbrella.

Benedict Anderson, a historian, political scientist, and polyglot, calls the nation as an imagined community which is limited and sovereign, in his book “Imagined Communities”. The imagined community of millions of people in a nation  appears to be real when a few individuals or a team represent the whole nation. Despite various disparities, there are factors that bring the citizens of our country together, with common views – sports being the most important of all.

Megha sharma is pursuing M.A in public policy @ mount carmel college in Bangalore.


Author: megha

Wandering and blogging about the one incident that influences me the most in a day...

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