Last Saturday, Pete Rose stepped on to a baseball park for the first time in 11 years in a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the day he broke the Major League Baseball (MLB) record for career hits. Rose was baseball’s Sachin Tendulkar of the day—or perhaps of any day—breaking batting records almost for fun in a career spanning more than 20 years. He still holds a clutch of MLB records and is immortalized, at least in my estimate, by Billy Joel in Zanzibar.
Three years after he retired as a player, Rose was implicated in betting scams—betting on baseball games, including those involving his team. While denying the allegations, he agreed to quit all forms of baseball before being formally banned by MLB from any association with the sport. The ban has been rigidly enforced—not only has Rose been kept out of the Hall of Fame, he has since taken the field just twice: once in 1999, in a century-end special game, and on Saturday.
He didn’t speak at Saturday’s ceremony but did so later that day; his words carry a meaning that go far beyond Rose and baseball. “If anybody has a problem here today, come forward. Don’t hide it... You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Mr 4,192: Pete Rose celebrating the 25th anniversary of his career-hits record in Ohio. AFP
Rose’s story is instructive both in the punishment he received—as I said, he was baseball’s Tendulkar—and in his advice to future generations. The sport has had its share of scandals—the betrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his fellow “Black” Soxers in 1919 beats Cronjegate in 2000 for the sheer scale and status of those involved—but has bounced back stronger by taking the harshest possible decisions.
The message is amplified by the unambiguity of the various MLB commissioners in taking those decisions—which have involved, on occasion, strictures on star players for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The openness that Rose is advocating—and which he practised in his 2004 autobiography—is unlikely, though, to cut much ice in India where sport is cocooned behind a grass curtain. The default position of players and administrators in India is denial—whether it is fixing, doping or, as in the case of the Commonwealth Games, delivering. Suresh Kalmadi’s statement over the weekend that events could be hosted at the CWG venues “within 1 hour” was only slightly more absurd than the vehemence of Sharad Pawar’s insistence—and of Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh soon after—that there was no Indian angle to fixing in cricket. They haven’t yet told us what special charm Indian cricketers wear to keep the fixers at bay, given that almost every other top cricket-playing country has reported some contact.
Some years ago, when I was sports editor of a national daily, Indian sport was hit by a succession of doping scandals. Players were banned, inquiries ordered and much remorse expressed. After a decent period, we all went back to work, and when we’d next ask a federation chief about doping, the reflex response was once again denial. It’s a pathetically self-serving, myopic way of running sport that does the sportsmen no favours and in weightlifting, the sport most affected, has twice led to the national federation being banned in toto by the world body.
Opacity of officialdom is a fact of Indian life—why else do we have the Right to Information (RTI) law?—and it’s not really surprising that it extends to sport, given that sport itself is the fiefdom of politicians and other high officials. This is so even in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which, for all its billion-dollar deals and slick marketing, is the preserve of powerful administrators (and outside the RTI’s purview, for good measure). They’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much, hence the aversion to any boat-rocking—and even the slightest mention of fixing is the equivalent of a tidal wave.
In the absence of a Rose-like figure in active Indian sport, it’s down to those who’ve retired from the game to lead the way. It’s unlikely to happen in cricket, where the BCCI has co-opted almost everyone who’s anyone. Notable exception: Virender Sehwag, who last year led a public players’ protest against the rot in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). It’s down to the likes of non-official organizations such as Clean Sports India, founded last June by notables as diverse as Pargat Singh, Ashwini Nachappa and Tom Alter, and gutsy individuals such as Rahul Mehra, advocate and sports enthusiast, to shine the light on the problems. They can help bring Rose’s words to India’s beleaguered athletes: You can run but you can’t hide.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo.
Write to Jayaditya at email@example.com