Political Commentators – By Pankaj Athawale
They say cricket and politics are religion in our country, pun unintended!!! Many political commentators write editorials as well as provide entertainment along with animated hosts of news channels. But rarely do we find politicians who are good sports commentators. Every successful politician has tremendous oratory skills which act as ammunition in election rallies, in the parliament or while facing overtly excited media persons.
Maharastra CM Devendra Fadnavis is one such statesman who can duck any bouncer with his oratory skills or bowl a perfect Yorker to clean you up.
Recently the Vidhan bhavan parking area at Mumbai was converted into a football turf for an exhibition football match between Speakers XI and Chairman’s XI. Vinod Tawde was the refree, CM kicked off the match and then provided running commentary. Normally you do not find many politicians interested in sports, though they play the game very well in politics. Most of these public figures are happy monopolizing sports associations and grab powerful positions. But there are examples of politicians, CM’s, PM’s and ministers across the world who play the game well, both in and out of the field.
Former Prime Minister of UK, John Major is an avid cricket fan. He did play some competitive cricket in his boyhood days. But apart from his performance in running the country, he is also known for his writings on the game. His book “More than a game- Story of crickets early years” is a good read and it takes us through the journey of cricket in the UK through various socio economic transitions. The book talks about cricket puritans and how the game probably saved Britain from political uncertainties during the 1850’s. The book talks about the legendary WC Grace, born in 1848, still playing for his local team at the start of the first world war. WC Grace wasn’t averse to a bit of sharp practice on the pitch, or to hard cash despite his supposed amateurism. He once demanded 600 Dollars in gold for each game on a tour of North America, demanded 3,000 pounds in 1891 for a series in Australia – with his wife and children’s trips paid for.
The book also talks about how the market forces were not able to provide sporting facilities to the residents, which is the case in any metro in India. Ever imagined any Indian politician writing books on sports!!! There might have been a few but it is not a trend as such.
Australian PM Julia Gillard was on air with Ravi Shastri during the Border Gavaskar Trophy down under in 2007-08 when India played 4 tests and the commonwealth bank tri series. Though India lost the test series 2-1, they beat the hosts in the finals of the tri series to lift the trophy.
Sports lingo comes naturally to former president Barack Obama. In the late 1970s, Barry Obama played for his varsity teams at Hawaii’s Punahou School, eventually winning a state championship in 1979. He has also played basketball with cabinet secretaries and Congressmen in the white house in 2009. And just like our CM, Barack Obama has tried his hand at commentary during the NCAA tournament games played in the spring.
As a radio broadcaster, I have had opportunities to interact with politicians during cricket matches. Recently at the finals of the Champions Trophy at the Oval, former MoS and current IPL commissioner Rajiv Shukla was with us in the commentary box. Though he came in before the carnage happened, it was a unique experience to interact during live commentary. Most of the politicians are decent orators, but their knowledge of sports has to be calibrated before you ask them any questions. Local politicians may not be well read, but gladiators at the State and Center are well versed.
At the 2011 Cricket world cup, we had the opportunity to interact with Arun Jaitley who was the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha in those days. This was the match between India and the Netherlands at Ferozeshah Kotla.
Interacting with local politicians is a huge challenge as they have their own agenda. For them it is a culture shock as they can’t imagine talking without an audience!! This was my experience conversing with some of them during Sachin’s 200th test at the wankhede. Either they went about their Sachin Bhakti or how he belongs to Mumbai or the city has done so much for him!!!!!!!
We generally do not expect all politicians to be interested in sports. But we do expect them to be more involved in development of sports. Most of the politicians are well versed with ground realities, but the fact that their over indulgence in party and local politics keeps them away from playing on the field. We are also to be blamed to a large extent as we keep politicians busy with inaugurations, festivals, ribbon cutting ceremonies, gutter lid complains and realty development.
With videos of politicians slipping while kicking the football going viral, we expect CM Devendra Fadanvis to continue with his sports broadcasting and hope it helps sports get more attention from stakeholders!!!!
–Writer is a radio sports commentator