Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bloodgate and other kinds of self-injury

Recently a news item about a British doctor called Wendy Chapman came to my attention. This led me to discover the full story of "Bloodgate", a sports scandal in the UK. I'll briefly repeat it here because most people I've talked to in India have never heard about it (and nor had I). The full story is here.

The English rugby team Harlequins was playing against the Irish team Leinster in April 2009. A Harlequins player, Tom Williams, came off the field with blood streaming down his face in the last ten minutes of the game. Due to his injury, he was substituted by a fresh player. Only, it later turned out he wasn't injured at all. He had deliberately bitten a blood capsule (which he pulled out from his stocking where it was concealed, and put in his mouth) so that he could be sent off and a substitute put in his place, who might have a better chance of scoring in the last few minutes by virtue of not being exhausted.

On investigation, a number of skeletons tumbled out. This wasn't the first time Williams was doing this, only the first time he got caught. He had previously managed to get away with it four times. It then turned out that the Director of Rugby of the club, Dean Richards, had orchestrated the subterfuge and the club's physiotherapist Steph Brennan supplied the blood capsule to the player. Charles Jillings has had to resign as chairman of the Harlequins over accusations that he tried to cover up what happened, and Mark Evans, its chief executive, has also been accused of a part in the cover-up. Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, Wendy Chapman, the team's doctor, was recently found guilty of having actually cut the lip of the player after he went off the field, to sustain his deception.

You'd think that after all this there would be punishments and recriminations all round, but no. Dr Chapman has been let off with a warning (remarkably her recent history of depression was upheld as a valid excuse for her action). The player Williams received a 12-month ban on playing which was later reduced to 4 months because he came clean. And Mark Evans came out with this astonishing piece of spin: "You would be incredibly naive to think (the Bloodgate stigma) will ever disappear completely. Things like that don't. They become part of history and, like good or bad seasons, are woven into the fabric of any club." In other words, things like this just happen.

Now I'll ask all my readers from the subcontinent the following question. Which one of Williams, Richards, Brennan, Jillings, Evans and Chapman is Pakistani? Or Indian? Or Bangladeshi? Hint: a very small number of them, namely zero. These are all true-blue Brits. They attempted to deceive in the ugliest way and most of them continue to spin the matter in every way except to admit it was a shame and a disgrace. (Wendy Chapman says she was "horrified" that she lied about the incident to the European Rugby Cup which carried out an earlier investigation. Horrified? We are horrified at what others do. Ashamed would be a somewhat better word for what we ourselves do).

And here's my point. From the above story we see that appalling scandals do take place in the British sports world, not necessarily involving a single subcontinental darkie, and the people concerned both get off lightly and spin the events by suggesting that they "just happen". But when it comes to the subcontinent, we indulge in a different kind of self-injury altogether. Three Pakistani players and a Croydon-born bookie of Pakistani origin indulge in spot-fixing and suddenly it's in our culture, our DNA even! Both Pakistanis and Indians (in a rare show of unity) seem almost delighted and falling over themselves to enjoy being tainted by this scandal.

An outpouring of incredible silliness by Sagarika Ghose in today's Hindustan Times, which you can read here, tells us breathlessly that "several cricketers have expressed the belief that dishonesty exists not just in Pakistan cricket, but in the very DNA of the subcontinent" and goes on to add "Ricky Ponting believes that the values of cricket are simply not upheld in certain cultures". She then goes on to extend the evidence of our tainted culture by appealing to the Commonwealth Games etc etc and having established a grand unified theory of subcontinental corruption, appeals to our worthy Prime Minister to slam the most corrupt people of our nation in a theatrical public event that will go down in history.

In case anyone is planning to misunderstand my point, it isn't that we should be soft on ourselves or complacent about any form of corruption. And it certainly isn't that we should try to put a positive spin on our scandals as the British rugby people did with theirs. My point is just that we need to respond to scandals with less of a propensity to self-hatred and self-injury. We should show more self-confidence and a far far better sense of balance and proportion. Corruption is bad wherever it happens, and it should be dealt with firmly, but please don't reach out and paint your own face and mine and that of entire countries and cultures with it. We need not accept the kind of rubbish that Ricky Ponting is supposed to have said (assuming he did say it), and still less should we, like Ms Ghose, get carried away with the delicious feeling of how bad we all are.


vbalki said...

Sunil, why are you surprised? History shows us that the British have always been pastmasters at passing themselves off as the very spirit, or even synonym, of precisely those values they callously trample upon in favour of expediency. SPORTSMANSHIP is the prime example of such a value. ("We bat with a straight bat and all that, what, old chap?") What is astounding is how they generally manage to get almost everybody, including the very people to whom they do injustice, to believe in the myths they create! Churchill's Hostory of the English-speaking Peoples offers much (scholarly:-) insight into their mode of thinking and their tactics.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Balki: I'm not surprised at all! But my intention in this posting was not at all to criticise the British (other than the specific British people I mentioned by name, of course, about whom I don't have a great opinion).

My point was rather that over there, isolated instances of downright crookery don't end up maligning the entire community, and quite rightly so. What concerns me is the (middle-class) Indian tendency to malign ourselves even when we are not at fault in any specific way.

Sukratu said...

In view of the tendency to criticize those who criticize themselves (the latter being perceived sometimes as unwarranted and mostly otherwise) I
wish to recommend an interesting book which I happened to come across recently

"Games Indians Play"
-V Raghunathan
Penguin Group 2006

There is another on a similar theme by Pawan Verma but I forget the title.

Meri Duniya said...

Sir enjoyed the piece.
The whites really are a weird set of people who employ different rules for same set of mistakes by different races.
When the Pakistanis used to "reverse swing" the cricket ball in late 1980's, the Brits called it "Black Magic" but when Simon Jones did it a few years back to wipe out the Australians, it was projected as an "ART".
And we Indians are fool enough to think that whatever criticism they do is "worthy" & "intelligent" and whatever we do is "Desi" & "backward".

vbalki said...

Nor did I intend to say that every Britisher is unsportsmanlike, obviously. But it can't be denied that, as members of a race that has got used to making the rules and to regarding its version of history as the only authentic one, westerners very often adopt a very patronising attitude towards 'upstarts' who dare to stand up to them.
This general 'fact of life' is something that pervades almost all spheres of life, as we know.