Thank You, IPL, the Only Dose of the “Old Normal” in an Uncertain World


Thank You, IPL, the Only Dose of the “Old Normal” in an Uncertain World

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

If there is one word that can describe all our lives over the past few months, it is “uncertain”. Everything that is familiar to us, from going to work, taking a bus, eating at a restaurant, hugging friends, or going to a concert was suddenly shut down. New behavioural changes were introduced, like wearing a mask, constantly washing our hands, or maintaining distance.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we had a positive outlook towards our new reality. We thought we’ll acquire new skills, follow a fitness routine, read books and watch all those Netflix shows that have been pending on our Watchlist. Heck, we even tried making Dalgona coffee and chatting with our relatives on Zoom call. But our upbeat spirits were quashed by the damning reality, as news on the TV reminded us of increasing coronavirus cases and social media was filled with doom and gloom. Life became dull, bleak, miserable and monotonous. As they say on the internet, same shit different day.

And then one spot of light returned to warm our cold, beaten hearts. Sport entered our lives, once again.

In an “uncertain” world, sports bring back familiarity to our lives. Our pre-Covid schedule may have become haywire, but we know for sure that the IPL match for the day begins at 7.30 pm or that there are a bunch of EPL games on the weekend. Just like the old days. We may experience new protocols for standing in a queue or sanitising our hands before entering a shop but the beauty of a backhand crosscourt or a cover drive still remains the same. Just like the old days. The Emmys were virtual and every TV interview is basically just a Skype call, but a Formula One race still takes place on a racetrack, or a UFC bout, inside an octagon. Just like the old days.

“The most important of the unimportant things in life”

Sports brings together people unlike anything else in life. It doesn’t matter what gender, caste, religion or creed you belong to, the appreciation of a great free-kick or a brilliant catch is universal. Even people who can’t speak the same language know exactly how special a particular manoeuvre was on the race track. One doesn’t have to belong to the same culture to appreciate a sequence of punches or a blistering forehand.

No matter how bad things are in life, sport allows us to escape from it all for a few hours.

Sport is universal. As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

No matter how bad things are in life, sport allows us to escape from it all for a few hours. It gives us a sense of belonging to a community and sharing an identity that has value. People talk about a Rahul Tewatia innings in WhatsApp groups and discuss it on phone calls.

A thrilling 4-3 football game between Liverpool and Leeds gets hashtags trending and people sharing celebratory videos on social media. Groups of people who have never met or do not know each other cannot stop bonding online over Dominic Thiem’s performance in the US Open Final. Legendary Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi once said that “football is the most important of the unimportant things in life.” It rings true of all sport.

A dash of certainty in an uncertain world

Sport gives us hope, something to look forward to. It brings certainty back to an uncertain world. Until a few weeks back, we couldn’t tell a Monday from Friday. There was nothing new happening, either in our lives or outside, and every day felt the same. You just sat at home all day, work, cook, clean, go to sleep. Repeat.

Now, sport is back to keep our minds engaged and emotions entertained. “Punjab play Delhi today, can KL Rahul get another hundred?” “Could Spurs upset Manchester United at Old Trafford?” “Surely Nadal couldn’t win another French Open, could he?” “Is Mercedes going to dominate again this year at the Formula One?” The various matches, bouts and races are as much part of our schedule now as the consciousness to wash hands and wear a mask outdoors.

Sport stars continue to engage with society and make a difference in the world.

Sporting arenas may be without fans, there might also be certain rule changes and additional health protocols in place, but the essence of sport remains truly alive. Sport is not just about kicking a ball to make money. Sports stars continue to engage with society and make a difference in the world, whether entertaining through sheer skill or using material wealth and influence to bring about positive change. During the coronavirus induced lockdown, footballer Marcus Rashford raised over £20 million, which went towards providing three million meals a week to children in the United Kingdom. On the field, English Premier League players take a knee every game in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. During the US Open, Naomi Osaka wore masks with powerful captions to honour police brutality victims. Players wore a black band in the Indian Premier League in honour of Dean Jones, who died last week.

People can enjoy different sports and sports can mean different things to different people, but what unites us is the fact that we are all glad the most important of the unimportant things in life is back on our television sets.