It offered every opportunity to be the most publicly celebrated moment of triumph and pride for India. Millions sat glued to their TV sets, hundreds uttered silent prayers, scores tweeted and reams and reams of newspaper columns were devoted to the feat after it was done. Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century has come and gone.
Yet, India’s richest sporting body, The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), let slip the first shot at feting the world’s finest cricketer. Instead, the occasion got hijacked by a privately orchestrated public relations stunt, as India’s elite gathered at Mumbai’s most ostentatious address to toast the little master’s success.
As television channels beamed out images of Tendulkar at the gala evening, all the faces in the audience would have been familiar to the man being feted. Ironically, the posh gathering would have offered the kind of cosy comfort that comes from being Tendulkar — an invitation to the homes of India’s most recognised personalities, be they in films, politics or business. At the gig, celebrities dished out their admiration and an iconic photograph of Tendulkar raising his bat to toast his success was flashed on a large screen, and it was concluded that he had raised his bat to the Indian flag, striking the right patriotic chord.
Sadly, fans of the legend, those who buy the goods he endorses and those who turn up to fill the stadia when he plays, were left gaping at the images on television with no chance of cheering for their hero. It’s the same fans that BCCI needs as the Indian Premier League kicks off next week, the same set of eyes that will be ring in the advertiser moolah for the pop-sporting extravaganza.
BCCI’s inability to invigorate the masses by cashing in on this coup-moment in cricket-mad India, cements its image as mostly a money-making sports body with no altruistic bone. As a governing body that been mired in controversies and a bully image in the cricketing fraternity, it was a great chance for BCCI to intelligently show that it is still in touch with the masses. Instead, at least one prominent member of BCCI, and a minister of state, Rajeev Shukla sat smugly at the elite private gathering, endorsing what has now pipped any planned national celebration. He should have been at a street party.
The cricketing body should have at the very least organised an open-bus tour through some of India’s towns, big and small, so fans could get a glimpse of their hero — inspiring a true shot at their own ambitions. Open bus tours or large stadia facilitations are usually the commonest way for fans to meet and cheer their icons and it’s nothing new. And it’s hard to image why any sporting legend the stature of Tendulkar, would not put such an offer of celebration at the top of his priority list.
BCCI could have done even better. With a little imagination, it could have organised a charity event around Tendulkar and used the money to support aspiring and underprivileged cricketers in many of India’s towns and villages — where it rarely reaches out to. The trick should have been to turn up the heat on the wallets of those very elite that turned up at the private party to cheer Sachin.
Truth is, brand Tendulkar inspires an entire generation of people, because he stands for everything that is the universal ideal-being rewarded with the top slot through sheer hard work, determination and talent. It’s a belief that is being rapidly lost and India’s disillusioned masses need reinforcing that it’s a value worth holding on to.
Anjana Menon is a Delhi-based business writer. You can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org