Shailesh Kapoor: Koffee with Kricketers: Much to Learn & Fix

25 Jan,2019

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The last three weeks, while this column was on a break, saw the out-of-the-blue eruption of a cricket controversy. Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul landed into trouble over their comments (especially Pandya’s) in the January 6 episode of Koffee With Karan. Trying to project a cool image, Pandya ended up coming across as brash, uncouth and misogynistic on the show.

When I watched the episode that night, I found it distasteful. But like the three protagonists of the show, including its anchor, I didn’t see the controversy coming. A social media attack on the three was expected, even reasonable. But within hours, BCCI (or COA to be more precise) had sprung into action. The issue continued to heat up and soon lost all sense of proportion. The cricketers were recalled from the Australia tour before the ODIs. And the mess got so convoluted that it even reached the Supreme Court.

The incident can be a seen as a case-study-like commentary on at least three areas:

Boys will be boys

The nature of comments by Pandya and Rahul are in the same league as those made by several politicians and other celebrities in the past, where deep-seated misogyny, probably a function of an upbringing and a culture that normalizes such a thought process, is on full display. It’s what one would call ‘locker room’ talk, except that we have seen it happen in the Parliament, in election rallies, on TV debates, in films, and now on a much-celebrated TV chat show. There have been some comments suggesting the cricketers should have known better what not to say on a public platform. But from the various previous incidents of this nature, none less than the much-publicised ‘Boys will be boys’ comment by Mulayalam Singh Yadav, it is apparent that locker room talk will make it to public platforms some time or the other, no matter how careful you are. Because locker room talk reflects your true mindset and values, and it’s difficult to hide it when you are in public glare all the time as a celebrity. The need is to address this mindset aspect. But very little debate over the last three weeks has focused on the mindset being the real problem, of which the Koffee With Karan episode is only a symptom.

 

Confused cricket administration

Cricket now has fairly evolved rules to handle on-field controversies. Match referees get involved and things follow a laid-down rule-book. The one-year ban on marquee Australian cricketers Steve Smith and David Warner last year, over a ball-tampering incident, is a good example of how effective on-field controversy handling generally is, if the quality of umpires and match referee is good. But cricket administrators, either at BCCI or ICC, have little by the way of rule-book or experience when it comes to handling off-field controversies such as the one involving Pandya and Rahul. As a result, the decisions taken are often arbitrary and knee-jerk. In 2000, Shane Warne was removed by the Australian Cricket Board from the Vice Captain’s position in the national team after a controversy about his obscene calls to a British nurse. Even then, the Australian media and public were divided in their opinion on whether Warne’s ‘indiscretion’ (their word, not mine) deserved such a harsh punishment. While ICC is not expected to write this rule-book, individual national boards will do well to set up internal committees that are equipped to handle such incidents, if and when they arise.

 

Trial by social media

The incident also highlights how social media plays a pivotal role of an influencer in such cases. In the absence of social media, the said episode would have gone largely unnoticed. I don’t envisage how a news channel or a newspaper would have picked this up as a topic of debate the next day if reactions on social platforms were hypothetically non-existent. As social media becomes bigger by the year, it also runs the risk of fuelling the lynch-mob syndrome in such cases, where public opinion, erstwhile restricted to living rooms and water coolers, is now for everyone to see and get influenced by. I’m quite certain decision-makers at BCCI/ COA read up on the comments on the episodes to update themselves of what the nation thinks, and most certainly, got influenced by it too.

There’s a lot to learn from the incident, which now seems to have lived its course, with the ban being lifted. While Pandya, Rahul and Johar would have their share of learning, it’s also for the cricket administrators to do their bit.

 

 

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