Rivalry in Sports

We’ve all had a rival at some point in our lives. Whether it be the brilliant maths student with whom you fought for higher test scores, the nearby school that was undoubtedly not better than yours, or even your siblings as you competed against one another for, well, pretty much anything. 

Rivalries are beneficial because they foster competition and growth. However, that might raise the question here, when do these trivial rivalries transform into something excessive?

On Sunday, 2 October, a football game in Indonesia ended tragically after a stampede resulted in at least 131 deaths, according to preliminary reports.

The crush occurred at Malang’s 38,000-seat Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java after Arema FC fans stormed the pitch following their team’s defeat in an Indonesian Premier League Liga 1 match.

This incident brought into the spotlight the idea of “Football Hooliganism”, a very detrimental phenomenon that affects the reputation of football and takes various forms in other sports as well. This has a definitive negative impact on society. During a match, it’s a two-way street. The players are energised by the liveliness of the fans in the stadium, and the fans feed off of the play on the field. 

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However, hooliganism results in disastrous incidents,  loss of life, injuries, growing fanaticism and hatred, and the destruction of public  property. In fact, a lot of these aspects of sports-related hooliganism can have a detrimental impact on people who are not even interested or involved in sports.

Rioting, clashing vandalism, swearing, intimidation, mocking, offensive chanting, spitting, picking fights, throwing objects, and the use of weapons are all examples of hooliganism behaviour.

Reading all this one would wonder how such acts take place at a venue if all the spectators there are present just to watch a match.

Studies have shown that violence in the game, particularly if perceived as unfair, increases the likelihood of the spectators engaging in acts of violence.

This violence is further magnified by the fans’ identification with a certain team, underlying racial and ethnic tensions, social alienation, and alcohol consumption.

The media and the hype created by it has further contributed to hooliganism. Fans, media members, and participants frequently debate about who is a rival team, what rivalry is, and which rivalries are most important in sports.

The demanding fans present in the stadium are so engrossed in the game mentally and physically that they forget the rules and norms of appropriate social behaviour in such a giant setting and often end up kicking’, punching’ and ‘using abusive language. 

The fourth and a very key element in the rise of sports hooliganism is the interference of politics in these sports. This has allowed a string of dirty politics, power play, and rumours to pollute any positive effects of rivalry left in sports.

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This phenomenon is not only present in football. A very famous example that might also hit home for many is that of India, Pakistan, and Cricket. India and Pakistan are two cricket-crazy nations, and when their teams compete, it generates a very unusual and uncomfortable atmosphere both inside and outside the stadium where the match is being played. Cricket matches between the two countries often have broader political and diplomatic implications.

Cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan has a tumultuous past. It has served as an icebreaker on occasion, but it has also served as a false quiet before another storm. Former Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq initiated the “cricket for peace” campaign when he came to India to watch a test match between the two sides in February 1987. This was a time when tensions were running high. To add to the already tense atmosphere according to BBC reports, during the match, Zia apparently quietly told Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that Pakistan had a nuclear bomb, the dangerous implications of which needed no explaination.

In fact, Indo-Pak cricket matches during the Kashmir Insurgency period (late 1980s to 1990s) became the centre of attention for the entire population on both sides. Even those who didn’t like cricket were glued to their television sets because of the political conflict raging in the background. 

Cricket was especially popular among both the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers

Many saw this game as a method of uniting people, which also echoes the feeling of the people of both nations. Despite the fact that people on both sides were bitterly opposed to each other, fans from both sides packed stadiums and sat together for the entire day to watch the game. Though the Pakistani audience wanted their team to beat India, they also wanted Sachin Tendulkar to strike sixes. Similarly, the Indian public expected their side to smash Pakistan, but also expected Wasim Akaram or Imran Khan to cast the magical spell of a “reverse swing.” 

As a result, whenever cricketers crossed the border to play on neighbouring soil, they progressively became ambassadors for their own countries.

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Today the world seems like a broken place where conflicts have become a common sight. In such a world sports often seem to  have the power to inspire and unite communities. Throughout history, people with little in common have come together as fans and players on neighbourhood pitches and  packed stadiums, putting those differences aside for the team’s benefit. 

When you become a fan of a sports star or team, you build a community in no time. It can be your child’s school, your state, or even the entire country. Regardless of whether a team is good or bad, everyone feels equally involved in its  successes and failures. The entire community cheers when the team is doing well, and consoles each other when things take a turn for the worse. Even in the most tumultuous situations, the sport gives people on all sides a respite from  endless conflict and violence.

The incident in Indonesia once again opened our eyes to the downside of rivalry and competition in sports. It acted as a reminder that the brutality of competition doesn’t just affect the players in the field but as well as the spectators . We cannot just blame one age group for getting influenced by the energy on the field, alcohol or media. It comes down to all those present on the sidelines cheering for their team.

Like a coin with two sides, rivalry also comes with twin outcomes. While unhealthy levels of competition can make you feel pressured, jealous, anxious, and deeply frustrated, the golden side of it is that it allows us to better ourselves.  If we didn’t have any rivals, there would be no one to play against. Rivalries can actually boost our performance in sport, business, and everyday life because everyone has that drive to be the best. Rivalries are important for competition, but if taken too far they can be detrimental. 

So the next time you are going up against your rival, be thankful for them. That may sound silly, but they are the ones who push you to become better. Also, remember to keep your eyes open and be observant. Even if you are focused on your rivals, there may be another team/individual sneaking up in your blind spot.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the competition. A good rivalry can be fun and hopefully creates a positive atmosphere for your sport. 

Valentino Rossie once said, “The great fights with your strongest rivals are always the biggest motivation. When you win easily it’s not the same taste.” Keep this in mind the next time you step on the field, court, course or track with your biggest rival!

– Shubhangi Ojha

FY( B.Sc Economics)

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