Religion And Sports: A Heady Cocktail Spiked Further By Misplaced Nationalism

Virat Kohli abused, Virat Kohli on depression
Indian skipper Virat Kohli had to endure immense trolling on social media, after India lost its match to New Zealand at the ongoing ICC T20 World Cup, on October 31. However, there is more to what meets the eye. Kohli wasn’t just trolled for losing one match, this was strike three for him. Extremist trolls were already upset that the Indian team lost a T20 match to Pakistan at the very tournament under his captaincy. And then he stood up for teammate Mohammed Shami who was targetted for his religious identity after India lost to Pakistan.

Speaking up for Shami, Kohli said, “There’s a good reason why we are playing on the field and not a bunch of spineless people on social media that have no courage to actually speak to any individual in person.” He further added that attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing that a human being can do. “They have no understanding of how much effort we put on the field. They have no understanding of the fact that someone like Shami has won India matches in the last few years,” said Kohli.

Kohli had also been in trouble for sharing tips to celebrate a “meaningful Diwali” in a sponsored post which many saw as another attempt to erase the traditional way to celebrate the Hindu festival. One thing led to another, and as soon as Kohli made his statement defending Shami, religious extremists made it a personal agenda to label Kohli as a bad player whose focus was more on peddling the “woke” agenda than playing cricket.

Here’s how social media trolled Kohli after his statement and subsequent loss to New Zealand:

The outrage against Kohli is proof that it doesn’t take much in our society to turn a person from a national hero into an ultimate villain. All you have to do is to take a stand, speak your mind and challenge the extremist mindset.

There are dangerous factions in our online community that have managed to equate nationalist sentiment with religious fanaticism, as a result of which trolls see abusing a person for their views as an act of patriotism. They feel they are doing a great service to their nation, and that too at no personal cost, by defending their religion.

But sports and religion are like chalk and cheese, they don’t belong together. As a captain, Kohli stood up for his teammate- he was doing his job- but the so-called fans of the game who have made this issue all about religion, going as far as to send rape threats to Kohli’s 10-month-old daughter, have singlehandedly corroded the fandom that is associated with cricket in India.

Remember that famous poster from 90s? Cricket is our religion and Sachin is our God? It feels like cricket has lost its special status in India- like the players, this game is a mere commodity- a source of entertainment, where there is no excuse for falling short on fans’ expectations. It is tragic because cricket taught us unity, sportsman’s spirit and teamwork. To see it lose to an ideology that peddles hatred and extremism actually is a telling sign of the times that we live in- where hate conquers love, and a game is lost not on the field, but in Twitter war rooms.

Views expressed are the author’s own. Direction contribution via ‘share your view’ section.

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