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Gamesmanship, Sportsmanship, Political one-upmanship


Big brother’s little neighbour goes to war (and wins), and his endeavour is discredited en masse as a war crime


Sri Lanka’s cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara is possibly not everybody’s cup of tea. But the dashing skipper’s name is quite probably on everyone’s lips… from critical fans who can’t bear to see him lose, to admiring critics who’d like to see him lead the home side more consistently to victory. ‘Sanga’, as he is popularly known, is articulate, intelligent and rara avis… a rare bird who is simply raring to go where no flashing blade has gone before: into the enemy’s camp… with panache when he speaks; cautious optimism when he captains; and élan, éclat and a great sense of esprit de corps in just about everything he does.

Of course, he does go too far. Sometimes. For instance, when he appeals – quite pointedly – to the opposition, to walk, when they are out. This is the height of optimism. To be fair by him, he himself walks the talk… many the occasions being on which he did not wait upon the umpire to give him his marching orders. So, one could argue that fair’s fair, after all, in what was (and is, in some remote corner of Kumar’s mind) a gentleman’s game. O, that our leaders would follow suit… methinks I hear you mutter, dear reader?

The problem with Sanga, as some would have it, is an exaggerated sense of justice. This is arguably the principle behind his quaint and often outmoded behaviour on the battlefield that is contemporary cricket. Vim, vigour and vitality are insignificant for him if the spirit behind the rules is not upheld. Fair play appears so important that mere victory pales in comparison. As far as patriotism goes, the man is a cricketing sophisticate first and a competitive Sri Lankan second. And that is where he parts company with many of the patriots of our day and age, who cheer wildly when their team wins… but boo the opposition when they bat round our wicket – and stone the match referee when mediation necessitates that some plain talking be done and some tough decisions be taken. You get the picture, folks? No slo-mo replays required!

Political sport

This, sadly, has become not only the dominant crowd psychology, but also the mindset of most spectators of the political sport that is being played out at present in the international arena: the contest in which the hand square-cutting the cash flow also drives the hooks and pulls to which the strings of compliance are attached. Uncle Sam goes to war without much merit, and (win or lose) shame be on him who thinks evil of it – but credit, kudos and rewards en bloc to those who praise his enterprise. Big brother’s little neighbour goes to war (and wins), and his endeavour is discredited en masse as a war crime.

The lobbies in Uncle’s backyard compel Sam to cry foul… and small fry back home respond with bile and spleen – while phlegm, perhaps, would have served better. Because Sam has posh friends across the pond who don’t like stupid people from the wrong side of the tracks who react with choler. Forget GSP Plus, they suggest politely. “Hypocrites!” respond the small fry on the one hand, while holding out the other for a handout from a development agency in which Sam is the principal shareholder.

Who’s the hypocrite now? Well, we all are, admits Uncle (to himself)! Why not take the loan anyway and pay us back in your good time at a very high rate… After all, we’re doing business with Pakistan and China too – and never mind quite what we think about their respective human-rights records! Regrettably, the mindset of most of our leaders is not attuned to such nuances of a game in which zero-sum does not have to be the eventual outcome.

For example, Sri Lanka’s insular conflict is not the first war to be fought along the zero-tolerance-for-terrorism lines, and it is unlikely to be the last… but it is the first to be waged successfully, at least from a purely military perspective, and that is the sum of all fears that are currently being expressed in the West… to wit, that it is not cricket; that it is hardly a sport; and that it leaves the powers that patrol the world looking like Lewis looked when he forgot to mind Duckworth: with egg on his face…                

Vicious cycle

Be that as it may, the grounds on which we are being attacked – and the premises on which we are seeking so painstakingly and painfully to defend ourselves – are a minefield. One man’s war victory is another warmonger’s criminality. It’s a vicious cycle, and the best way to stay on top of the pressure of such power plays is not to resort to spin in the first place. Fat chance of that when the red mist is rising in the pavilion and the home crowd is baying for the umpire’s blood.

Perhaps it is time for the powers that be to, as the precocious television commercial played during the Champions Trophy suggests, go back to go forward (‘pedal eka passata kaerakuwoth thamai hondata issarahata yanna puluwang’, or sentiments to that effect). Reculer pour mieux sauter about sums it up, but pardon my French if this is all a Greek zero to you. The bottom line is that discretion is the better part of valour.

Pity, then, that discretion is so rare among the peacocks who preen their feathers before the princes who rule the roost. This is equally true of those who take the high ground in international courts of so-called justice and point fingers at others (i.e. us) in a cavalier fashion; as it is of those who take the low road of playing to the local gallery, by taking the stand that they (viz. “I”, or the royal ‘we’) will not permit so much as an investigation. Such a stand-off only places formerly friendly powers on a war footing, and when we get our backs up so high, we are just asking for a, er, boot that will burst our bubble with the prick of a pin (if you will excuse my mixed metaphor). Wars of words over non-viable principles and hollow ideals are fought only by equals. When small fry, even though they may be swimming with sharks of late, take on worldly whales on issues such as this, the heavyweight champions usually win. It’s the way of a sole-super-powered world playing by the rules of common consent – whether or not we consent, or even understand the rules.

Is there no way out, then? Where there’s a will, dear, there’s always a way – as the actress said to the bishop. Should we be willing, say, to admit that “mistakes were made” because “war is all hell” (made-in-America phrases if there ever were any), but that it won’t happen again, the high moral ground may slide from under the feet of those hypocritical finger-pointers. Of course, we will be unpopular for a while at home… but in the long run, a more meaningful, worthy administration may ensue. Um, unless it is not a meaningful, worthy administration one desires. Howzaat?! 








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