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|September 1, 1997||
Games people play
Ever since Manoj Prabhakar made a noise about the bribes he alleges Indian players received to lose a game, there have been two opinions -- that, yes, it is a large-scale operation and, two, Prabhakar is merely trying to gain attention.
In fact, some even say the poor man lost his place in the side because of his flamboyance.
If that were indeed the case, then there would be no men playing any kind of sport, simply because competitive sports are all about flamboyance. Much has been written about the sex appeal of sportsmen and how women fall for them because of their celebrity status and power. But that would amount to reductionism. If these were the only factors, then Bill Gates would have had swooning fans around him.
The sports stars who act like magnets are invariably the ones who either play team games or games where the stakes are very high. I haven't heard of any women going ooh and aah over Jaspal Rana or Vishwananthan Anand or, for that matter, any matador.
In our part of the subcontinent, cricketers are undoubtedly the most feted and fawned upon sportsmen. Despite night cricket, the sight of 11 men taking to the field in pristine white has almost a religious fervour to it. Besides, the fact that they are in uniform makes them appear disciplined and, in a sense, the very subsuming of their 'identity' affords them the benefit of being without any ego hassles. It is a team effort and women like the thought, often hoping that such an honourable attitude will percolate down to personal life (which is why Azharuddin was seen as a slimeball).
The changing room culture adds to the seriousness of purpose, besides the fact that they are said to be playing for the country. There is also the history of it being a gentleman's game. It's a great ad line.
Football has not produced any major star here, but it does incite sufficient interest to merit some mention. Pele and Diego Maradona have ensured that. Again, it is a team sport, but there is virtually blood on your feet and fire in your heart as you hit and slam that ball. While cricket can be compared with religion, football is almost like some sinister but very tempting cult, or a rock concert where the music deadens your nerves while illicit fragrances from inhaled smoke make you want to dance like a dervish. Women are unlikely to fall in love with one football star, you root for the whole team. It is sexual fantasy with all its perversions at its very best. It's also sublime, if I may say so!
Tennis is all glamour. At the obvious level, it is seen as a duel -- two men fighting it out and then shaking hands over the net. But it is also about two siblings, two friends, both in need of a mother figure.
Remember when Bjorn Borg won and went down on his knees? I loved him but I also wept for John McEnroe. Often, women want both of them to win, or at least one to lose just a little. The underdog element comes across with the greatest force in this sport, because nothing is there to intervene and both have so much sweat to show. I think this is one game where there are plenty of tears.
Boxing is about physical prowess, about beating up your opponent black and blue. But has it struck anyone that the thought of having two men in a confined space can give many women a great big kick?
The competitiveness is there, but a few seconds is hardly a yardstick to decide on how of a man the competitor is. It is the circus factor, the Chip 'n' Dale show theme which makes it a sport that females like to watch. Mike Tyson will remain a hero-cum-villain for a long time because he took this battle outside the arena and was tried and jailed for it. Women could pity him twice over! And hate him as much for biting off an opponent's ear.
I am aware that most people will not agree with me. I already know what they think on this matter. For them, cricket is all about great strokes, football about co-ordination, tennis about fitness and boxing about light-footedness and muscle power. But, then, we are talking about a species which has always deluded itself with the belief that sex too is a game where one only person plays while the other keeps count.
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