(WARNING: This post includes political opinions that may or may not lie outside the realm of cricket commentary. If you can’t handle that, stop reading now.)
I don’t necessary mind politicians showing up at cricket stadiums. There are important caveats: who paid for their tickets? How are these tickets allocated to other VIPs? And how can we ensure politicians are at least 50 feet away from the post-match presentation ceremony? But I do get annoyed when I see cricketers forced to shake hands with them after games or tournaments.
My reasons: a) It’s a shameless attempt on the politician’s part to insert himself into a news cycle. (It’s hard to say this about Indian President Patil, since her office is largely symbolic and, quite frankly, is rarely in the news cycle.) b) It’s usually a one-way street in terms of expression. That is, Murali meets President Rajapakse. The President gets a picture with a national hero, and the warm embrace shores up his reputation as a consensus politician (Murali is an Indian Tamil; Rajapakse employed unusually brutal and awful methods to eradicate the unusually brutal and awful Tamil Tigers). No athlete can say, Actually, I’d rather not shake your hand, Rajapakse (or Narendra Modi, who employed unusually brutal and awful methods to orchestrate an anti-Muslim pogrom in his home state). They just have to stand, shake, and smile.
Now, some people think that’s perfectly OK, because it separates politics from sports. (Does anyone really care what, say, Harbhajan Singh thinks about the Congress Party, or the BJP?) OK, but then, what’s the point of these photo opportunities with leaders? To the extent these leaders represent national symbols — and I think a legitimate case can be made, again, for Patil — I understand the impulse as part of a wider effort to thank athletes. But it still leaves me a bit unsettled. Am I over-reacting?