Updated: August 11, 2021 9:07:24 am
George Orwell wasn’t often wrong. “Serious sport,” he said, “has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” At least this once, though, he didn’t quite get it right. And it is India’s Olympic Gold winner, Neeraj Chopra, and his friend and rival Arshad Nadeem from Pakistan, who fly against the face of Orwell’s cynical wisdom.
Serious sport, and all the sportspersons worth admiring, play a game well and appreciate their competitors. Unfortunately, the tensions between the two largest countries in the Subcontinent — despite their shared culture and history — has often spilled into sports. Cricket is the usual casualty, with the two countries rarely being able to play a bilateral series. But the javelin, even though its origins are as a weapon, was not allowed to be a pawn in the bitter games between jingoists. When asked about Nadeem, Chopra was clear: “It would have been good to have Nadeem on the podium too. Asia ka naam ho jata.”
For all the talk of sports as war and the players as warriors, the true spirit of competition comes from pursuing excellence and building solidarity. On the grandest stage of his career, the world’s best javelin thrower — an Indian soldier — did not put down a friend who had lost, one who appreciated his win. That, as much as Neeraj’s athletic ability, is worth admiring. As politicians rush to congratulate the Indian Olympians, they could learn a bit about statesmanship, sporting spirit and magnanimity from a 23-year-old whose pride in his nation is not contingent on hating the neighbouring one.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 11, 2021 under the title ‘Sporting gesture’.