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Sports Entertainment Is a Vehicle for Change. Except at Ashoka

By Harigovind S UG'24

A recent survey carried out by The Edict suggests that 74.8% of Ashokans prefer to have the streaming restrictions placed on the Ashoka campus WiFi lifted. For the uninitiated, “over-the-top” (OTT) services, including Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime, have been blocked by the campus WiFi for various time periods of the day for the better part of the past fifteen months. The reasoning, dissipated through email (at a time when the greater part of the student body was confined to their homes), was innocuous: “to improve the internet availability for classes”. It was classic utilitarianism—ensuring online access for a handful of students without hindering the prospects of the others; the greatest good for the greatest number. Until it wasn’t any longer. A cogent email by Ojas Tripathi of the 2023 undergraduate batch summarizes what followed. “(W)e are in an offline mode of teaching now and a lot of us wish to use our breaks from classes between 8am to 8pm to catch up on shows or sports, all of which are on OTT platforms which are blocked during those hours. Not everyone has classes all day or even every day.”

Pop media as a means of escapism from the mundaneness of daily life is a theme that is talked about all too often. But it may be argued that this daily insurrection of sorts against structured life is a more distinct element of sports than TV shows. International sport, with its packed schedule and heavy monetary incentive to maximize television ratings, gives rise to an orderless calendar. Matches of interest could be scattered arbitrarily across the year, with the team you stan taking on its arch-rivals today, tomorrow or the day after that, at various times of the day, depending on the location of the game and the targeted broadcast audience. This is unlike television, where not only does the latest episode of your favourite show await your arrival like an unspoilt flower; but it also exists with a temporally pre-set structure that one may permanently anchor their life around. In other words, if the series fits neatly into the university student’s deterministically imposed timetable, the international sport was born to rebel against it. If pop media exists as an escape from the structured perfectionism of life, sport is its mother. And so, stripped of the most powerful means there exist for escapism, university life becomes what many of us fear – bookish, workaday and melancholy.

Decades ago, sports sociologists isolated the key components comprising sport’s socio-emotional function: release, camaraderie, bonding, and ritualism. From this respect, sport is a unique social window. Indeed, the timeless magnetism of sport owes itself partly to this. While it may be said that services such as Hotstar and Prime allow subscribers to stream full match replays for negligible marginal costs, these miss the point because sport is a community affair. It is a shared indulgence; a pint you chug not just because of the momentary high it offers but also because it is a gentle slide towards socialization, an avenue for meeting like-minded crazies but without the pressure of scrounging for a common interest. Sport is thus a home for social integration; and a corollary, for social mobility. And in a campus such as ours where profound linguistic and economic barriers exist in opposition to the many integrating forces, its role is even more significant. Sans sport, not only do we lose access to great physical acts of grandeur performed by the best sportsmen and sportswomen of the world, we also lose the right to opine about these. Not only do we lose access to the passing of a once-in-a-lifetime event that is Messi eclipsing Ronaldo, we also lose the right to quibble pointlessly over the triviality that is Ronaldo vs Messi.

What also merits pondering is the absent life experience this leaves one with. A large part of the college experience, for many of us, is cheering for your favourite team or player, for adult life dooms one and all to be grumpy aunts and uncles pointing at the television set with a stick and professing the superiority of past players over the present. The youngster’s experience, on the other hand, is organic, and inaccessibility causes us to miss life’s most organic moments. And while some may point out that this has not stopped students from coming up with innovative solutions to the problem – ranging from expensive measures such as purchasing an independent dongle to beginning the stream on mobile data before surreptitiously switching to WiFI – spare a thought for those left out of these deceitful tricks: those of us without the requisite social or economic capital, and those of us following the esoteric sport here or there. Tragically, Ashoka’s OTT restrictions subvert sport’s functionality as a vehicle for social integration and make it an echo chamber for the loud; an exclusive club for our world’s victors, at the cost of the voiceless.

Seen from this lens, it makes sense that the strategy of choice taken by the admin to the continued criticism of the university’s OTT policy has been silent indifference. For there really exists no reasonable justification, no silver lining in this cloud, that can be twisted into an artful tangle of words to throw at critics in support of the university’s policy. Sport is often described as a vehicle for change. At Ashoka University, this vehicle runs on no wheels.

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