Sports War Analogy

There was a sly, greedy, and ambitious Jackal in the animal kingdom. He had inherited a great fortune and had begun to fancy himself as the king of the jungle. All the animals in the jungle came to visit the Jackal and were impressed with his wealth. The jungle King Lion also visited the Jackal and was dazzled by the wealth of the Jackal. The Jackal was clever and continued to expand his power and influence by hook or by crook. The Lion was smug and didn’t bother because the Jackal continued to feed meat loaves to him. The Jackal’s ambitions soared further, and he rode the Lion and gathered the animal forces to challenge the humans. The humans were scared and had not encountered such attacks from wild animals. The king of humans did not know how to neutralize the threat so he went to his raj guru for advice.  The sage reassured the king and was calm because he knew, “an animal’s intelligence is no match for a human’s wisdom.” The sage approached King Jackal and told him that Jackal’s army had diverse animals, some of whom were stronger than Jackal. He further sowed the seeds of doubt by questioning if the big animals like elephants and lions would fight for the Jackal. This angered the Jackal and he ordered the Lion to roar to prove loyalty. The Lion roared so loudly that the elephants started to run and trample other animals, the Jackal himself fell from the lion he was riding, and other animals started to run helter-skelter in a melee. Thus came the end of the animal kingdom led by Jackal.

Abridged version of the above Jataka tale from India has a modern geopolitical term, and is called punching way above its weight. The Soccer World Cup in Qatar (“gutter”) (no pun intended) has become famous not for the sporting prowess of athletes but for the sordid saga of corruption, exploitation, misogyny, homophobic tyranny, and religious obscurantism. One cannot predict the future but the story described in the fable is a cautionary tale for the country and the people involved in this sad spectacle.

Hindu traditions have a concept of Dharma, where even a war had a strict code of conduct and duty-bound rules defining the rules of engagement for warriors, while risking their own lives. It is a sign of wretchedness that the sports that seek to provide an alternative to the real wars in modern times have descended into power play by Jackals to the detriment of all.

As an originator of many of the ancient and modern games, India has a tradition of sporting principles. While our sports have a strict code of honor and conduct, they are devoid of the gore associated with Roman gladiators. While the wars were fought with sports like code of conduct but sports were not played with war-like violence and deceits. Some find it hard to believe that Swami Vivekananda once said, “You will be nearer to heaven playing football than studying the Bhagavad Gita.”

A dialogue between Karna and a vengeful snake that offered to kill Arjuna by deceit during the Mahabharata war is more relevant than ever.

‘तेरी सहायता से जय तो मैं अनायास पा जाऊंगा, आनेवाली मानवता को, लेकिन, क्या मुख दिखलाऊंगा?
संसार कहेगा, जीवन का सब सुकृत कर्ण ने क्षार किया; प्रतिभट के वध के लिए सर्प का पापी ने साहाय्य लिया ।

(Source: Rashmirathi by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar)

Karna says that with the snake’s help, he would easily be a victor. But to the future generations of humanity, what face would he show? The world would say that Karna undid all good deeds of his life, the sinner took help from a snake to kill his opponent.

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