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POSTSCRIPT

PEDAGOGY | SPORTS

and friends periodically nudge me awake with the ultimate of


unanswerable questionswhich sport do you like the best?
This has always been a problematic question. Its like asking
why I like Cruyff or McEnroe or Goolagong or Messi or Jordan
or Ted Williams or Gale Sawyer or V V S Laxman or Vishwanath
or Kapil Dev or Balbir Singh Sr or M P Ganesh or Kindo or
Goswami or Bolt or Bikela or any other notable sportsperson.
What about Ray Ewry who won 10 Olympic golds in an
event that is no longer part of the Olympics? The standing jumps.
My favourite sportsperson; and if there were a YouTube set of
his performances in the first three Olympics of the modern
era, I would actually pay to watch it.
Still, the more I tried to evade the question, the more it
became an intellectual exercise that set my torpid genes all
aflutter. The best sport should combine skill, beauty, innovation, intelligence, bravery, rashness, luck, teamwork, fluidity,
strategy, evenness and accessibility.
This eliminates individual events like track-and-field athletics; one-on-one sports like tennis, badminton, squash, golf
(aah, joy!) and fencing, where the level of on-the-spot teamwork is minimal. Bravery is internal and not dependent on
the actions of another as it would be in football or cricket or
ice hockey or rugby. The probabilities of winning or losing lie
entirely on the shoulders of the participant. Chess is thus also
out of contention for the best sport in the world.
Team sports, then. But how accessible are many of these
sports? Basketball depends on height considerations (unless
The Olympic motto in Latin for Faster, Higher,
youre Satnam Singh, all of seven feet tall!). Volleyball players
Stronger may well bring on a paroxysm of
too average six-and-a-half feet in height.
passion as sports fans argue over which is the best
And ever seen a pint-sized rugby or American football
sport in the world.
player? Rugby, though, comes closer to my ideal of a sport,
what with its wonderful fluidity but the scrum would defeat
Arvind Krishnaswamy
most of us. American football is meant for TV advertising and
is fortunately quarantined to the US, as is baseball, which is
very once in a while, millionsmostly men but inskewed in favour of the pitcher. Ice hockey can only be played
creasingly women as welllock horns over the queswhere there is plenty of ice.
tion of which is the best sport in the world. Nothing
Hockey and cricket are unfortunatelyor as my American
elsenot politics, not religion, not sex, not culturecauses
friends would say, fortunatelyconfined to the erstwhile
such paranoia or fiery tempers. Little wonder since sports
British Empire. Still, they have most of the attributes that make
allows everyone to participate vicariously, happily bandying
a sport great. However, there is the problem of equipment.
a favourite hero, a villain, an opinion and complete contempt
Hockey requires sticks, masks, balls, and now AstroTurf as well.
for those who dont abide by their own fanatic logic.
Like American football, it too has become a stopMy sister has never stepped onto a tennis court but
On the football
start game with too many breaks, one reason for
there is not a single match she doesnt follow. An
field you find life
its decline in popularity.
aunta professor of finance who has never held a
condensed into
Cricket requires bats, pads, gloves, balls, wickets,
bat in her lifeis the ultimate cricket fan we can
90 minutes of
bails, etc, often not easy to acquire and are expensive.
depend on for the score or to find out whos playing
teamwork, bravery,
A cricket match used to be very long but now with
who. We all know its suicidal to disturb her on a
luck, innovation,
three different formats and minor rule changes,
match day. Weddings, deaths, births and anniversaintelligence,
flexibility reigns. Still, its often difficult to find
ries all have to make way for her match dates. And my
fluidity, caprice
eight strong teams for a tournament.
drivers 22-year-old son, whos never kicked a footSo, that leaves football, a sport that requires minimal equipball in his life, is a fan of Manchester United and Wayne Rooney.
ment and costs. On the football field you find life condensed into
As for myself, I am an omnivore where sport is concerned.
90 minutes of teamwork, bravery, luck, innovation, intelligence,
If all else fails, I can even watch golf. I never get bored. At
fluidity, caprice. In the 2014 World Cup the top-level players
worst, I fall asleep after tee off. But my long-suffering spouse

Citius, Altius, Fortius

78

september 26, 2015

vol l no 39

EPW

Economic & Political Weekly

POSTSCRIPT
SPORTS | LANGUAGE

ranged from the 54 Valbuena of France to the 66 Mertesacker


of Germany. Past geniuses like Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Messi
and Zidane have made football an art and a thing of wonder.
Consider this summarised description of Maradona scoring his stunning goal against England in the 1986 World Cup:
Maradona gets the ball in his own half, starts on a run,
slaloms and dribbles his way past three English players, gets
near the English goal, cuts across one, swivels past the other,
sees the goalkeeper Shilton come out and narrow the angle,
and remembers a match from two years ago where, in a similar
position, Shilton had dived to the left, and so he shoots the
ball to Shiltons right thereby leaving an unbalanced Shilton
sprawling as the ball trickles past him into the goal.
Imagine running at full speed, controlling a bouncing ball
as five defenders try to block or upend you, always watching
out for teammates to pass the ball toand in the midst of
all this physical maelstrom, to remember how a goalkeeper
behaved in one of the hundreds of matches you played, and
then use that knowledge appropriately... That is what constitutes genius and mastery.
So which then is the worlds greatest sport?
Arvind Krishnaswamy (a_krishnaswamy@hotmail.com) is a sports lover who lives in
Mumbai and writes occasionally.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW

september 26, 2015

vol l no 39

79