It was initially with a sense of amusement that I read of the reaction of Maharashtra’s Minister of State for Home to the sight of cheerleaders at the recent IPL match in Mumbai. Mantriji apparently thinks that it was “absolutely obscene” (http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1161274). Shatru bhaiyya agrees. Hardly surprising.
This is a rather familiar and sadly hypocritical line that one has heard all too often from India’s self-styled guardians of public morality. Teenagers celebrating Valentine’s Day, couples canoodling on the coast and ‘celebrities’ unexpectedly osculated by Hollywood retirees (remember Mr. Gere?), all have been the target of moral ire in recent and not-so-recent times. A morally outraged mantri is such a tired cliché that one’s first instinct is to ignore his outpourings completely.
Of course one could embark on a feminist analysis of the demerits of cheerleading (objectification of the feminine body, etc.) and conclude that the cheerleaders’ display was indeed, to quote Shatru bhaiyya, an “indecent dance”. But if one was to lighten up a bit, one might even regard it as a harmless bit fun. In any case, I suspect the poor cheerleaders might actually have been a lot more demure and decorous than the many scantily-clad damsels who cavort on screen in Bollywood’s far too numerous ‘item numbers’.
While one can thus make light of the storm-in-a-teacup over a few provocatively gyrating ladies, there is a larger question here that is not so easy to laugh off. Are we comfortable with where cricket is going? I have in the past opined that the 20-20 format was not necessarily a corruption of the noble sport. Far be it from me to be the wet blanket. Yet, I wonder whether this whole IPL thing is a step in the right direction. In and of itself, it is just another way to enjoy our favourite game.
But let’s look at the English Premier Football League and the Canadian National Hockey League. These august institutions have given the world some of the most exciting sporting spectacles and brands (Manchester United, Chelsea FC, Arsenal FC, The Montreal Canadiens, The Toronto Maple Leafs, etc.). But they have also given us the worst football hooliganism and the riot that ripped through a downtown Montreal street this week. Also, the entire culture that has evolved around celebrities and sporting clubs (especially in English football), has in general given sport no more than lurid sensationalism, overpriced tickets, megalomaniac managers, ill-behaved stars and violently divisive fan loyalties.
Now I am not suggesting that the IPL will result in all of this. Nor am I opposed to it in any way. All I hope is that we are aware of the possible dangers such a format of professional sport brings with it and that we are mature enough as cricket fans to behave in a cricket-worthy manner. Let’s keep our noble sport noble. Cheerleaders or no cheerleaders.