I think I began to think about sport and nationalism a couple of years ago, when the Indian cricket team decided to take the field wearing specially commissioned military fatigue caps. This was Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s idea and Virat Kohli, who was captain by then, supported it enthusiastically. The gesture was made in solidarity with the soldiers who had lost their lives at Pulwama. The team donated a substantial sum of money for the welfare of the soldiers’ bereaved families.
Dhoni is keen on the military. He is a colonel in the Territorial Army. In the 2019 World Cup, he had to be asked by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to remove regimental insignia from his wicket keeping gloves. In that camouflage-cap match, Dhoni and the Indian team literally embodied George Orwell’s famous description of international sport: “War minus the shooting.”
Orwell’s phrase has been used so often and so widely that it has become detached from its historical context. It was prompted by his growing recognition of the political symbolism of sport, as a highly visible tool of nationalism. Dhoni and his team-mates were not really playing at military service; they were performing a particular brand of patriotism. Orwell’s aphorism grew out of his strongly critical response to the 1945 tour of Britain by the Dynamo Moscow football team. He believed that Dynamo was a publicity vehicle for the Soviet Union….
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