Saturday, May 18, 2013
Last Updated: 18 May 14:47 PM IST
17 November 2012
We have been told that up to 10,000 tickets of the December Test between India and England at Eden Gardens will be given gratis to school and college students so the stands don't look so empty that the Cricket Association of Bengal is left with a face the colour of the tomato ketchup. Well might that have served to remind lots of people of 2004, when crowds of school students came to be collected and herded into Salt Lake Stadium when India went up against Japan in a football World Cup qualifier.
It seems, going by the evidence marshalled and also by impressions formed through everyday experience, that, regardless of what the game is, this city's inhabitants, long known as genuine, even passionate lovers of football and cricket, have arrived at the conclusion that sport is something that has grown too big for its boots and mustn't be allowed to feel more important than it actually is. In other words, they longer come running up to the Maidan or the stadium on the city's eastern fringe even if putative big days are touted and sought to be made the most of in terms of takings. There may be those who will cite the Indian Premier League and the assorted unabashedly commercial drives that bring a touch of exotic, though not competitive, football to these parts but invited spectators are an IPL reality and word was even someone as great as Leo Messi didn't prove a magnet, where paid viewing was concerned, in Kolkata.
It all seems completely unreal if the past - not hoary antiquity, but memories from some two or three decades ago - is thought back to. Thousands of people showed up even to watch football's dominating triumvirate practise on the Maidan and impressive spectator turn-outs marked the better sort of university cricket matches. The Elliot Shield final, of college football, used to be a big draw. No sales pitch preceded these; neither was there any cost benefit analysis entailed in the process on any side and if you spoke to someone about a profit base expansion by targeting audience segments, you risked being avoided at your next meeting with the by-now wary specimen of humanity. Today's sport marketing guru would in those days have been "the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms." Grown to man's estate, he did what he thought was his job, reeling off jargon and promising an Aladin's treasure trove in return for falling in with expertise-guided ways in a new world, and sport, complete with its "strange eventful history," was left undone. They, of course, will tell you of the purported complexities of our ever-flourishing consumer society and sport's competitive existence in its intricate scheme of things but that's like telling a terminally ill patient how robust everyone else's health is. Especially because sport, left harmlessly to itself, never really thought of salesmanship.