Watching your favourite sports team lose a crucial match can feel like the worst kind of betrayal. Understandably, you’ll experience feelings of intense grief. In fact, in many ways, the grieving process is quite similar to that of a breakup – you might go through feelings of shock, denial, grief, anger, and maybe a little bit of resentment as well. And due to this, you may seek closure in different ways, whether it’s by convincing yourself (and others around you) that the match was rigged or by binge-eating your favourite comfort food. But there are also those who seek closure in the most unusual and ridiculous ways – like breaking their TV sets, burning down posters of sports players, and taking to the streets to chant angry slogans, much like these Indians did after Pakistan defeated India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
What people tend to forget is that sports players, although playing in the name of and for the country, do not owe us anything. If you’re an athlete yourself, you might know that there are both good and bad days. And while these players might be some of the best in the world, they’re not perfect. Making mistakes is part of human nature, so it would be illogical to assume that this rule doesn’t apply to athletes as well.
Unfortunately, for many prominent sports players around the world, losing a match means not only dealing with the heartache that ensues, but also the dread of going back to their country. They have to deal with heavy media scrutiny, social media abuse in the form of nasty trolling and sometimes even racism, angry mobs outside their family homes burning posters and effigies, and possible death threats.
Recently, when Colombia was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup after losing to England, two Colombian players Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca received death threats on social media. The posts, which were aimed at both players for missing penalties, warned the players that they were ‘dead’, urged them to kill themselves, and told them not to return to the country.
Shockingly, this came a day after Colombian player Andres Escobar’s 24th death anniversary, who was shot dead by gang members 15 days after he scored an own goal, which was blamed for sending Colombia home in the 1994 World Cup. In fact, Andres’ brother had even expressed his fears for the Colombian football players one day prior to the match against England. He said that in case the team loses, he hopes that “the tragedy that happened to his brother doesn’t repeat itself” and emphasized, “Football should be a vehicle of peace and social transformation, as at the end of the day, it’s just a game.”
One week before the Colombian team’s loss, Swedish player Jimmy Durmaz was subjected to online abuse and racism for giving away a free kick during stoppage-time to Toni Kroos, which lead to Sweden’s 2-1 defeat to Germany. Durmaz, who is of Assyrian descent – his father emigrated from Turkey – was born and brought up in Sweden. However, after his blunder in the match against Germany, Durmaz was branded as a “f****** immigrant” and a “suicide bomber” by his own fans, and even received death threats not only aimed at him but at his family as well.
Closer to home, even we’re guilty of subjecting our players to such revolting behaviour. Back in 2003, when India lost to Australia in the Cricket World Cup in South Africa, Mohammad Kaif’s house in Allahabad was defaced with motor oil and black paint. In 2009 during the T20 World Cup, when India failed to defend the title they had won in 2007 after a three-run defeat against England, irate fans in agitated mobs burnt MS Dhoni’s effigy in his hometown. In 2014, when India suffered a disappointing six-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka in the ICC World T20, Yuvraj Singh’s house in Chandigarh was pelted with stones because he only managed to score 11 runs off 21 balls. And when India lost to Australia in the 2015 semi-final, effigies and posters were burnt. Along with that, Anushka Sharma was abused, threatened and disrespected, with fans claiming that she was the reason that Virat Kohli ‘lost focus’.
Never mind that in the 2003 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar scored the most runs (673) and was named the player of the series. Never mind that in 2011, Yuvraj had simultaneously battled cancer and won the World Cup for us. Never mind that Dhoni had sacrificed being present for the birth of his first child in order to stay with the team in 2015. We choose to look at the negatives. We choose to crucify our own players, looking past everything they’ve done to make us and our country proud over the years. We’ve let them down, and we still continue to do so.
It’s fine to feel angry and frustrated after a loss. However, expressing that anger and frustration in inhumane ways is not. Let’s stop being fickle minded, and learn to love our players not only at their prime, but at their lowest as well. I’m pretty sure that for every time they’ve slipped up, there are many more times they’ve given us immense happiness and made us proud. No team can have a 100% success rate, and winning or losing is part of the journey. When they’re out there, battling some of the best players in the world for us, the least we can do is give them the surety that we’ll stand by them no matter what, even when they’re not at their best. And remember – at the end of the day, it’s just a game.