Can Fanatical Supporters Evolve, and Become Hardcore Sports Fans

Source: IPL/BCCI

You can dismiss this as the lament of an old-fashioned lover of sport. You can ignore this as the grieving of a man living in the glory of times long gone. You can ignore an old-school voice that is clearly in the minority when asking for greater sanity in the behaviour of modern fans of sport and sportspersons.

It is such a pity that instead of admiring brilliant centuries by Virat Kohli and Shubman Gill, both innings crafted with care and unrivalled beauty, fans went berserk with their toxicity on social media after the game. No cricketer or athlete or any of their family members deserve such trolling on social media.

With social-media trends impacting mainstream media coverage, it was not long before news portals brough this home to those who been blissfully unaware of such pathetic, uncouth behaviour by a section of fans. It is a good bet that no cricketers or athletes will wish ill on other sportspersons or their families.

Time was fans would not let cricket results affect their lives, let alone feel jealous of the performance of an athlete who was not exactly their favourite. But things have changed completely now. However, should we just shrug our shoulders and accept poor fan behaviour as a reflection of the times we live in? Or is there something that we can do to find ways to alter such behaviour?

Sadly, we live in times when fans not only fall over one another to prove their loyalty to their favourite, but also engage in attacking other athletes, the families and their fans. The only ones benefitting from this are social-media companies and data networks. They could be laughing all the way to the bank, the circulating vitriol contributing to their growth.

It is not easy, when writing about fans, to curb my own emotions, especially the anger that surfaces at the thought of them attacking families. There is a thin line between mocking and abusing someone, let alone dragging their family into the discourse. More so from behind the apparently comfortable anonymity of social-media handles.

Having said that, let us spend moments examining what the athletes themselves could be going through. As emotional folk, they cannot be not adversely impacted by the trolling that they and their families are sometimes subject to.

You cannot but feel for contemporary athletes, first-generation stars in the era of social media, that they have to perform unmindful of the action unfolding in the world around them. After all, they have grown up without anyone ever being able to educate them about the hazards of being in the crosshairs of fans of other stars.

They will have realized that social media is but a double-edged sword. While the ‘likes’, retweets, shares and positive comments may come as validation of their performances and actions and sometimes control their own emotions, the opposite can also happen – and quite alarmingly at that. Hopefully, the athlete of the future will wrap themselves up with safety blankets.

Let me also express my emotions against mainstream media adding fuel to the fire.

The media does not have the time to introspect on whether it is culpable in fanning the flames of passion. It pats itself on its back for spreading the ‘gospel’ of cricket and for being responsible to the viewer, but it forgets that cricket shows are watched because of cricketers sweating it out in the middle. The media does not wonder if it is being fair to the very players who cause viewership ratings to soar.

In the first place, some of their predecessors as editors may have been as active in seeking reports of displays of hostilities, including scuffles, featuring fans. It did not matter that the number of fans involved in such disgusting behaviour would only be a miniscule percentage of those packing the galleries to the rafters.

It is now easy for editors to take refuge behind reporting ‘only what is happening’, and the ‘right of viewers/readers/visitors to know what has happened’ to justify the reportage on the basis of social-media trends. It appears that they find it tough to make the call that if their platforms had not been party to the events in the first instance, they would not have added fuel to the blaze.

Talking about such fires, it must be hoped that someday soon they will collectively have a moment of epiphany and evolve from being fanatical supporters to hardcore sports fans.

Surely, it is possible to admire one star without having to spew venom on others. Surely, it is possible to remain a die-hard fan and refrain from fanatic behaviour. Surely, it is possible to urge fellow fans to show no disrespect to athletes, their families and everyone else, even when one feels that one’s own hero has not got the due that he or she deserves.

I know such aspirations are all but Utopian in an era that thrives on such divides. And, in fact, in an era that actively promotes such divisions to rustle up numbers. However, I live in the hope that fans will learn to respect all athletes, while loving some a lot more than others. And I know I can clasp that fond wish in my heart, no matter how silly it may seem to the younger lot in our society.

Also Read: Rahul is Right, We Have to Take Down the Trolls

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