AT THE HEIGHT OF Sachin Tendulkar's popularity a giant billboard proclaimed: Cricket is our religion and Sachin is our god. That sums up the mood of veneration the people feel for their sports stars. Winners become celebrities overnight and draw advertising contracts worth crores of rupees and a cult following equal if not better than political leaders and film stars. Months preceding the world cup see a plethora of media coverage and advertisements starring Kapil Dev and the dream team that won India's only world cup in 1983. Everyone seems to ask the same question – Will 1983 ever come back again?
This is the dilemma of material world, dear readers, where victory is euphoric but not eternal, where stars are born everyday but die before the day-end, where something that is supposed to give us fun and joy ends up causing more anxiety about the future. Will we win the next game?
If we take a break from the sports channel and turn the pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam, we will find that sporting is precisely what God does in the spiritual world. Sports are an integral part of the loving exchanges that Lord Krsna has with His associates. He plays hide and seek, catch a ball, wrestling, running, and swings with His boyfriends and with His cow-herd girl friends plays debates, water sports, chess, and Holi with colors. And no, these are not wish-washy games, but hard fought competitions that end up in one side winning. And unlike the material world, there is no selfishness and envy and no anxiety over losing. Wining is fun and losing even more so. Sometimes Krsna loses and ends up carrying His boy friends on His shoulders and when He loses to Srimati Radharani or the gopis, He becomes their servant. At the end of the day there is joy and fun for everyone.
Compare this with the feelings in the material world where one man's bliss is another's bitterness, or shall we say one country's hall of fame is another's hall of shame? The looser licks his wounds looking for another chance to level scores and erase the scars of defeat with fireworks of victory.
And the winner? Can h e sit back and relax basking in the glorious sunshine of victory? Hardly! Of course he gets more contracts and more money but there is also more pressure, more expectations, and more games, which expose the weak spots-something the opponents are superquick to seize and relentlessly attack. The result? The dashing performer eventually wears out, becomes our of form, and soon the once adorable darling of the masses is unceremoniously dumped in the dustbin of history.
PSYCHE OF THE GAME
We find that where a victorious team is greeted to a hero's welcome, the losers are booed. The same fans who once garlanded the winners, bay for their blood, throw stones and chappals once their sport stars lose . Why do we see such an extreme reaction? Why cannot we just sit back and enjoy and let the guys out there sweat it out? Why does our blood boil when a simple guy drops a ball or another fails to hit it out? Why a defeat in a mere game leads to a country wide depression?
The reason is – because of our false ego.
False ego is the single reason why we come in this material world. We desire to enjoy pleasure separate from Krsna; we want name, fame, respect, and adulation; we want to be the centre of the universe, and we want to be the only recipients of victory. So when we watch a sport on TV, its not just a passive engagement while we lay back on the sofa and eat supper. It's an active projection of – our heart's deepest desire to win, over the men who represent us in the field. We begin to identify with them. I want to win all the games I play in my life; similarly I want MY team to win. So if MYteam wins, it's MY victory and its defeat is MY defeat. Modern materialistic sports, therefore, are not simple, harmless fun-filled activities as they seem. Deep within they carry the same psyche of envy, pride, illusion, greed, and false ego that devotees want to avoid . Hence the Hare Krsna's don't have a cricket team. And now back to the original question – who will win the world cup?
AND THE WINNER IS …..
Before we gaze in to the crystal ball and foresee the future of umpteen teams playing in the current world cup, let us introduce the readers to a player nobody seems to notice – someone who will play the game behind the screens.
In this world cup billions will be watching the live telecast of the matches or hearing it on radio or reading it in full colour multipage supplements in the newspapers and magazines giving the corporate giants a great platform for advertising their products.
And there is a unique advantage in cricket which is not in others: A match is nearly 8 hours long and yet offers a break every six balls. So advertisers have umpteen opportunities to broadcast their messages repeatedly. The ads are slick and hold the viewers, so there is hardly any channel surfing. Therefore cricket attracts the bulk of sponsorship money and more is spent to create catch-you-everywhere publicity. There are articles in print media; ads and programs on TV, radio, internet, and cell-phones; ever new features of TV coverage: advance camera angles, replays, highlights, forecasts, past matches, and experts who entertain the viewer even when the game is not on. The sole aim being that everyone who can see sees world cup -including not just the cricket, but also the ads.
So no matter which side wins or loses, based on the mega money that it will earn, one side is a sure winner – the media.
What will happen after the world cup ends?
If India wins the Indian captain will proudly praise the terrific efforts of his team mates; if India loses he will diplomatically defend them. The Pakistani captain, both in victory or defeat , will praise the Allah and offer prayers of gratitude.
The winning team will celebrate by running around the stadium with their cup. Some fans will cheer them; most will return home broken hearted. The next day, the sweeper will arrive and shove in the dustbin the last posters crying for a four or six.
Thus the circus will end.
What about the Hare Krsnas? Unfazed by the megashow, they will continue to chant on their beads meditating on the loving sports played by Lord Krsna. OK.
HEY, but what about the billboard proclaiming, 'Cricket is our religion and Sachin is our god'. Don't you have anything to say on it?
Well , what else but this – 'Krsna bhakti is our religion and Sri SAClNANDANA is our God'.
Murari Gupta Dasa, M.B.B.S. serves full- time at ISKCON Mumbai and is a part of the BTG India team.