A nice historical piece by Ram Guha on the topic. He says given Gandhi’s dislike for sports, he would have been amazed by his name being given to a cricket series between India and South Africa.
India and South Africa are currently playing a series of games across the international formats for the “Gandhi-Mandela Trophy”.
When this new trophy was announced, back in August, a friend said it was a case of small men wishing to look less small by associating themselves with two great, iconic leaders. The sarcasm was justified, for in terms of character and credibility the sporting administrators of India and South Africa are worlds removed from Gandhi and Mandela.
But there may be other reasons why the name of the trophy is inapt – and perhaps also inept. For Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi had little interest in sport, and on occasion actively disparaged it. When, in July 1910, the white Jim Jeffries fought the black Jack Johnson for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, Gandhi wrote a sharp editorial in his newspaper, Indian Opinion. He was appalled by the massive interest in the contest, with young and old, rich and poor, officials and citizens, turning up to watch it. Some had travelled all the way to Reno – where the fight was held – from Europe. “What did they see,” asked Gandhi. “Two men hitting each other and displaying their brute strength. The people of America went mad over this show, and America is reckoned a very civilized country!”
In Gandhi’s view, the boxing match in Reno was “the extreme limit of barbarism. However strong the bodies of Jefferies and Johnson, they may be reduced to wrecks in an instant. It is doubtful if the millions who had assembled at the show ever thought of this even in their dreams”.
He goes onto point from several historical writings how Gandhi disliked sports. He preferred people to stick to agriculture to get that sporty feel rather than play the usual sports.
This was not the case with Mandela though who showed interest in sports and was quite a boxer in his early days.
I know Nelson Mandela’s life and writings far less well. But it does seem that he himself fell on the Nariman rather than Gandhi side of the divide. He was a boxer in his youth. Once, when a friend came to visit him in Robben Island, Mandela asked: “Is Don Bradman still alive?” After he was released, and became the first president of a democratic South Africa, Mandela supported the Afrikaner-dominated Springbok rugby team, whose victory in the 1995 World Cup is said to have aided the process of racial and national reconciliation. (The story is well told in John Carlin’s bookPlaying the Enemy, and less well told in Invictus, the film based on the book).
It is hardly likely that the mandarins of the BCCI know either of Mandela’s interest in sport or of Gandhi’s supreme disregard of sport. They just wanted to have some of the glow of those hallowed names rub off on them. As a Gandhi scholar who loves cricket myself, I look forward to the Test series, but wish that the trophy that Virat Kohli’s men and Hashim Amla’s men shall soon play for had been called something else. It should really have been named the Kallis-Tendulkar Trophy to honour two sublimely gifted players who have inspired and enthralled cricket fans in India, South Africa and beyond.
Nice bit on history of cricket and politics..