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Did Mahatma Gandhi Influence the Demography of Sport in India?
Today is the 149th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more widely known As Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi. His philosophies and approach in securing India’s freedom have undoubtedly inspired many a freedom struggle and the freedom fighters involved with them. The prominent among the men who have openly admitted to having been influenced are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. But did Gandhi’s thoughts and actions, influence the demography of sports in India? Source We are talking here about the sports introduced into India by the colonial powers that ruled India at the time. They were football, cricket, field hockey, volleyball and badminton among others. Cricket today occupies the prime of places in India. Would it have been otherwise, had the great man who is never to have known to have taken part any sport in his lifetime, behaved differently? Sports historians believe that it did make a difference. The only physical exercise that Gandhi is known to have indulged in is Yoga, other than his famous penchant for going on lengthy disobedience marches. During his tenure in South Africa, however, where he protested against the discrimination meted out to the coloured people, he is known to have extolled the virtues of sport as unifying force for the people. He frequently cited football and cricket, in that order, as the means for people to get together and put behind their struggles of the day. 29th July 1911, a double whammy for Yorkshire Source By the time he arrived from South Africa to India in 1915, the British Raj had shifted its base from Calcutta to Delhi. Most of the trade of the Empire was centred in Bombay, an Island which the Portuguese had given to the British as a dowry when Catherine of Braganza married Charles II of England. So while football firmly was entrenched in Calcutta, cricket flourished in Mumbai, promoted mostly by the Gujrati and Parsee traders of the city. On July 29, 1911, the Mohan Bagan Athletic Club defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army to claim the Indian Football Association Shield at Calcutta. The victory of the eleven barefoot Indian footballers was celebrated as a triumph over the colonialists. The same day Warwickshire beat Yorkshire for the County Championship in England. However, the polarisation of the British Raj towards the North and the West of India, and Gandhi’s settling at Sabarmati in Gujarat diverted the attention away from Calcutta and football. Gandhi, in fact, had cause to comment on the Bombay Pentangular conducted in Bombay at the time. The Hindu Cricket Club had several times discriminated against players of lower castes but were good players. In fact, Palwankar Baloo, who had travelled to England with the Indian team of 1911, and was amply praised for his bowling abilities, was one of the victims. Gandhi sternly admonished those that were involved in the misdemeanour. 1905 photo of Cross Maidan, Mumbai. Hundreds play cricket here even today Source It is therefore believed that had Gandhi’s activities been more in the east as compared to the west of India, it would have been football ruling the roost today as opposed to cricket. Gandhi’s association with cricket, other than his intervention in Bombay, is limited to carrying an epistle in 1988 to Ranjitsinhji who had preceded him to England. Both being from Gujarat, they were classmates in Bombay when studying there in their childhood.