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Fans get the short shrift at cricket stadia in the country

Vijay Lokapally

NEW DELHI: There was a time when a young fan could take the route from a football field to watch a cricket match. “Enter the Ambedkar Stadium and jump over to the Ferozeshah Kotla,” remembered Anis Mohammad, who was an expert in this art. Once he ended up with a broken leg — a broken leg from failing to scale a wall was “acceptable” for many such cricket lovers in the 70s and 80s.

But, today, a cricket fan can still end up with broken legs or injured ribs. Not from slipping from the wall because there are not any that can be scaled since cricket stadiums around the country have become modern structures. The injury can come from the policemen, wielding their sticks to scatter the cricket fans, regardless of whether they carry valid tickets or not.

Most small venues in India are notorious for denying entry to the genuine spectator — one who has bought a ticket to watch the match. Every staging centre has its tales of mismanagement and the sore point is that it always affects the spectator.

The ordeal begins from trying to procure a ticket. Typically, the queue at the counter begins to take shape with the first spectator reporting at 5 in the morning — at some places, people even camp overnight.

While entering the stadium on match-day, one can't carry food, water, medicines, pen, coins and whatnot. Braving the unfriendly police and organisers is now an accepted part of the process.

The lowest priority

Spectators are the lowest priority for the organisers and it has been proved on many occasions during international cricket matches.

“I can't comprehend how they can say tickets are not available when the stands (at Kotla) are empty,” asked Abhishek Kamboj, a school student.

The most harassed people at the Kotla on Thursday were the ICC officials as they pleaded with the police and fought with the Delhi and District Cricket Association to get what was theirs by right.

“Rude and insensitive,” was how one ICC official described the policemen. “Unprofessional” was their description of the DDCA.

Spectators are considered an integral part of sport all over the world. Football clubs are known to pamper their members and fans, taking special care of their comforts from the time they enter the stadium. Even their exit plans are monitored to ensure smooth movement.

The spectator is as important an element for them as players and sponsors. In India, the sponsors too are not spared.

Police highhandedness in the Capital is often used as a shield for the shortcomings of the DDCA officials, but the ICC made no secret of its displeasure at how things were handled at an important World Cup match.

Not at all venues though!

“Wankhede and Chepauk are glorious exceptions — the seats are numbered and the police are not rude,” insisted an old cricket watcher.

“The Chinnaswamy Stadium should join the list now that Anil Kumble is in charge. What happened (on Thursday) was an aberration,” observed a veteran.

If exceptions only prove the rule, then it is time for some serious rethinking by keeping the paying spectator in mind. If cricket is indeed a religion in India, then why are its “devotees” treated with such contempt by the authorities in different capacities?

Somewhere deep down, the authorities know for a fact that given the huge number of the fans in this country, the most devout among them are enough to fill the stands each time their cricketing gods take the field. Some among them will clear all the obstacles to take their seat, in spite of a broken leg.

Anis is prepared to do it even today, but not by scaling the wall anymore…

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