Round Table India
You Are Reading
Cricket, Nationalism and Virat Kohli’s Remark

Cricket, Nationalism and Virat Kohli’s Remark



Vinod Kumar

vinodThe recent remark of Virat Kohli in response to a cricket loving fan to “leave India” has sparked a debate, and it must be seen as a matter of concern. It is important to take his remark seriously for the purpose of analyzing cricket and the nation. There is a need to think what is the relationship between cricket and a person’s loyalty to the nation. Cricket is an art and a matter of entertainment for the general audience. Definitely, it is a career and life for a few. Any talent, whether in the form of music, art, academics, science and even in sport, in any part of the world can be appreciated by any person. There must not be a boundary. In fact, for talent, there is no boundary at all. What is Kohli’s remark exactly? He said: “Okay, I don’t think you should live in India then…you should go and live somewhere else, no? Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right,” in response to a fan when he wrote about Kohli as an “Over-rated batsman and personally I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians,”.

What does Kohli mean by his statement? Is loyalty to India conditionally linked with loyalty to the Indian cricket team? Liking or disliking, appreciating or criticizing the Indian cricket team falls under the criteria to be nationalist or anti-national? One wonders about what exactly has happened with cricket and its followers that it has become common sense to equate India as a nation with the Indian cricket team, a body which represents the honor of the nation. The media and television have played a significant role in this process. Eleven men become entire nation while playing cricket against a team representing another nation.

Cricket and other sports cannot be equated with loyalty to the nation. The Indian cricket team as something that represents the entire nation is a false consciousness. It does not represent the interests of the nation but the interests of the corporate bodies of the different countries. Moreover, nation defines an entity where people feel a sense of belongingness, with shared experience and feelings, share a common territory, common language, common culture, common historical past and common struggle for independence in case of colonized countries and aspiring for a common future for their territory. Furthermore, to develop a nation, myths and symbols play a significant role to identify the unique character of a particular nation. In fact a nation is not a fixed identity, it is fluid, and it is based on the false consciousness of the people, and relating a cricket team with nationalism is the greatest false consciousness. Indian cricket is a colonial product which came in the form of “Board of Control for Cricket in India” (BCCI) in 1928. It is flavored with, and symbolic of colonialism. Let’s talk about the logo of BCCI.

bcci large logo                                  
It represents the “most exalted order of the Stars of India”. Actually, who were these stars? These stars were the British lords and princes of Britain and the local kings and princes of India who were loyal to the British Raj. It (the most exalted order of the Stars) came into existence after the 1857 war with British, to consolidate colonial sovereignty over India. The British crown created a new order of knighthood to honor loyal Indian princes. This symbol represents the colonial interest at the cost of Indians. During colonialism, this represented Britsh supremacy over India and benefitted the British Raj in India. In post-independence India, it’s benefitting new imperialism and global capitalist market through various means which are discussed below, and cricketers like Kohli and others are the most exalted order of the stars.

Symbolically, it does not represent any national symbol of India except the word itself. It is not a government body at all. Many times players like Sachin Tendulkar and others tried to display the Indian national flag on their helmets, sometimes below the BCCI logo and sometimes above, but they were barred and warned by the government. The term ‘India’ has been represented on the jersey of Indian cricket team along with different symbols which belong to the corporate world and most of them are non-Indian Brands. There is ‘Sahara India’, ‘Nike India’, ‘Oppo India’ and next will be any other India. Actually which India are Kohli and other cricketers representing? Does it have anything to do with the common citizens of India?

Even BCCI has nothing to do with government in any way, financial and otherwise. Financially, the corporate world finance it, and in return, BCCI advertises their products globally. For example, ‘Nike’ an American company which has the official kit sponsorship rights for five years to Indian Cricket Team. Nike means ‘the Greek Goddess of Victory’. Financially BCCI represents an American company and symbolically it represents the Greek Goddess of victory. In this case, the army of eleven players represent the interests of foreigners and not the interest of India. They would want India to only provide their income.

The ‘Oppo’ brand is sponsoring the official Indian Cricket team for five years. Oppo is a Chinese consumer electronics and mobile communications company which is known for its smartphones and other electronic devices. A leading manufacturer of smartphones, it was the top smartphone brand in China in 2016 and was ranked no. 8 worldwide. India is one of the biggest market for these companies with a sizable number of middle class families. It also has the second largest workforce in the world. The craze for sports and smartphones is very much prevalent among the Indians. For these companies, India is the one of the most profitable markets. Indian Cricket Team ultimately serves the interest of these companies and their respective countries rather than India.

These companies are not only exploiting human resources and hurting the dignity of Indian workers but also demeaning the Indian national symbols. For example, in 2017, one of the Chinese employees in Oppo’s Noida plant tore the national flag of India and threw it in a dustbin (Times of India, 30 March 2017). A settlement was mediated by Oppo’s officials. Apart from these kind of incidents, the Indian workers have been humiliated and insulted by these companies with filthy comments and are forced to give up their jobs. Even the entire Oppo service team of Punjab resigned over the comment that ‘Indians are beggars’ (The Indian Express, July 20, 2017). This is the resignation later that was forwarded to all major retailers and distributors in the state:

“We are OPPO Service Team Punjab & here we are resigning whole service team because our HODs is making pressure to our Service Manager Mr. Arun Sharma to resign, & by wrong pressure.

He (name of HOD yet to be identified) always disrespect our India Country & our culture. As per him we Indian only work for Money, & we are not having any dignity & self-respect.

He always makes us unnecessary penalty & wrong commitment.
He makes us work till late night & if we miss any report he creates a penalty.
When some employee asks for salary increment, he says Indian are beggars always asking for money.
There are a lot of other reasons too, but this kind of hitlership is not accepted any stage of private sector.
So kindly accept our resignation” (Smartprix, 21 July 2017).

Other companies which are sponsoring the Indian Cricket team are Hyundai, which is a South Korean automotive manufacturer company, and Pepsi which is a carbonated soft drink manufactured by PepsiCo, an American company. Moreover, several international companies have hired Indian players as their brand ambassadors, to advertise their products through TV ads and through display of logos on their bats.

BCCI is India’s richest sport body as well as the world’s richest cricket board with an operating income of 10,000 crores. Surprisingly, it has been treated as a charitable organization till 2007-08. After the withdrawal of its status as a charitable organization its earnings now come under business income, but BCCI is still reluctant to pay the proper tax to the income tax department. BCCI owes around 373 crores taxes to the income tax department as per the last assessment carried out for the period of 2009-10. In response to RTI activist Subhas Aggrawal, the income tax department revealed that BCCI earned over 964 crores during the period of 2009-10. The tax liability was over 413 crores but so far, the cricket body has paid only 41.91 crores (Indian Express, 20 Feb. 2012).

Now there is a need to think about what BCCI does for the country? A board which is richest in the world and exempted from the taxes for long, and still not paying proper tax–its huge corpus of funds which is supposed to be utilized for the development of the country is in the hands of a very few.  Is proper proper compliance with the tax system not a required service to the nation? It is and BCCI is not doing it. Cricketers like Kohli must question the honesty of BCCI in regard to loyalty to the nation, instead of scolding a cricket fan who likes Australian and English batsmen. Moreover, he must question Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) owner Vijay Mallya, whose team in IPL Kohli represents as captain for the last couple of years. Recent incidents involving Mallya’s financial corruption and money laundering fraud are not a secret matter and are known to everyone across the world. These are only a few examples, but the whole corporate system works like this.

From Kohli’s statement, it seems he wants every Indian to like, appreciate and respect only Indian players. This statement is against his own choice and preferences. He himself has named foreign players like Herschelle Gibbs as his favorite player. The format of IPL is transnational, which is facilitated by the multinational and transnational corporations. During the IPL, different teams owned by different corporate owners have players from different countries in the same team along with Indian cricketers playing against each other. There were incidents where Indian players picked petty fights against each other. In one such incident, Harbhajan Singh even slapped S. Sreesanth when Mumbai Indians lost to Kings XI Punjab. Moreover, Virat Kohli’s friendship with foreign cricketers is very much popular among the cricket fans, whether it is with his own IPL teammates like AB De Villiers, Chris Gayle or other players such as Shahid Afridi etc.

If people like Virat Kohli are expecting the common Indians to think of Team India as the nation, Indian cricketers as soldiers, then it would be an insult to India and Indian soldiers. These things cannot be equated at any level. Cricketers are in a privileged position at the top and they have the privilege of choice, preference, and priorities. The responsibility of nation and nationalism falls on the shoulder of the common masses, even the responsibility of cricket nationalism. Frequently, cases have been reported where cricket crazy people lose their lives and damage their property due to the defeat of Indian cricket team. After each World Cup tournament, people commit suicide, break their TVs, damage their property and fight with family members and neighbors. And on the other side, many cricketers who inspire such passions have been found to be guilty of match-fixing. Are they being charged under sedition? Income tax is one of the major source of revenue generation in the country. Income tax generates the resources for the government to spend on public welfare and the development of the nation. Not paying tax, cheating common masses, is not against the interest of the nation?

In a nutshell, it can be argued that through these companies only People like Virat Kohli can be awarded as the exalted stars of India, but at the cost of the common people of the country. Kohli’s statement not only contradicts himself but also raises the question of his understanding of country and nation. What is the relationship between India and the Indian cricket team? It is not serving the interests of the common masses of this country, only capitalists across the world. It is support from the common people that made Indian cricket popular and not the other way around. In India, a large chunk of the society loves cricket with a lot of passion. No other country finds as many spectators in the stadiums as India. Therefore, foreign companies are willing to sponsor BCCI. But in return, what is BCCI doing for the common people with the kind of money they have? Indian cricket team cannot be affiliated with national sentiments. Symbolically it represents Victorian supremacy over India and culturally, these cricketers and BCCI are advertising and promoting a western and foreign lifestyle in term of food, clothes, choice, habits and preferences. Financially it serves the interest of global capitalism which mostly serves the interests of western imperial powers such as U.S, Europe and some economically emerging countries. In this regard, the question cricketers and BCCI need to answer – which India are they talking about? And whose interest are they serving? Is it national interests of India or that of the capitalists of the world?   



Vinod Kumar, Phd scholar at Center for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University.

BCCI Logo Image from BCCI Website (