Originally Published 2012-08-11 00:00:00 Published on Aug 11, 2012
It was sad enough to see anchors across all channels celebrate four medals (not one gold) but it was downright embarrassing having prime time TV blaring the hollow chant: "Tricolor will cover the skies over London".
Jingoistic Ads At Olympics in absence of Indian stars
The other day, watching Olympics on TV, fear possessed me: I was seeing double. The screen was covered with Chinese, American and Japanese athletes, in that order, flashing their gold, silver and bronze. But in the blink of an eye, the image changed and the screen was filled with the face of an Indian anchor, well groomed and earnest. "Aaj Uncha hai hamara sar, gaurav se" (Our heads are high with pride.)

Pride for what? I asked myself. Had the producers of the programme presented by the anchor fallen back on the simple trick: If you can’t beat them, join them. Or was it some sort of transcendental generosity, a priceless capacity to share the joy of others.

I willingly suspended disbelief because that morning I had read a mean minded report by one Jere Longman on page one of the International Herald Tribune.

He was reporting on the sensational feat of the 16 year old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.

Professionalism demanded a thunderous applause from sports scribes across the globe. But the headline given to Longman’s disgraceful report, takes ones breath away: "Ye Shiwen, 16, Shatters World Record But Specter Of Doping Casts Shadow." And there is no official doping allegation even by a long shot.

Longman fishes all around the stadium for expert views to endorse his prejudice. In the process he asks Michael Phelps, one of the greatest swimmers of all times. Phelps’ response was proper: "She almost outswam me. We were all pretty shocked. It’s pretty impressive that she went that fast."

Not satisfied, Longman ends up with John Leonard, an American who is executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association.

Ye’s performance was "disturbing", Leonard said. Hitler’s attitude towards Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was put down to racism. How does one explain Longman and Leonard’s attitude towards Ye Shiwen?

At the other end of the scale, how does one explain the Indian anchor ecstatic at the performance of non Indian athletes? This, it turns out, was a huge misunderstanding on my part. The image on TV had jumped rather abruptly from the Olympics arena to the Indian anchor who was not ecstatic at "non-Indian" medal winners. He was talking of Indian athletes but he was putting a cheerful spin on poor performances, even on a woman high jumper who came 29th in a list of 32, and the hockey team which came last. His refrain was "how well have Indians fought". That most of the Indian contingent were below the halfway a mark in the rankings list did not matter.

It was sad enough to see anchors across all channels celebrate four medals (not one gold) but it was downright embarrassing having prime time TV blaring the hollow chant:
"Is baar tiranga London
      mein phaeraayenge!
Jai Hind." (Tricolor will cover the skies over London)

Imagine, slogans of this character on 24X7 channels, stoking nationalism on false expectations. Oh the despair that would follow!

The secret was always known to the ad agencies that London Olympics would have combined viewership on ESPN, Star and Doordarshan of over 100 million. Compared to the Rs.7.6 crores (1.37 million dollars) that Doordarshan earned from ads during the Beijing Olympic, the broadcaster has already sold in excess of R.17 crores (3.07 million dollars).

It is interesting to compare the cost of, say, 10 second slots for Olympics and international cricketing events. For cricket the cost is Rs.10 Lakhs (18,000 dollars) per 10 seconds, whereas comparable Olympic slots are for Rs.20,000 (360 dollars).

In cricket, the viewership is guaranteed. But Hero Motocorp. Tata Docomo, Airtel Digital, BMW, Nivea and Samsung have to invoke patriotism and Nationalism, almost bordering on jingoism, to attract viewers.

That brazen nationalism sells, says something about us as a people.

"A healthy nation is unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation’s nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again." George Bernard Shaw’s words are a mirror for us. If we are secure in our nationhood, slogans embellishing the Olympic ads will only amuse us. If we are uncertain as a people, such ads will earn profits for the advertiser and, in a different context, votes for the politician

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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