Sports Monks

When enough is not enough – the pseudo-macho culture that needs changing

When Tamim Iqbal came out to bat with a broken hand, he was showered with praises for his bravery – and rightfully so – by everyone, including me. After all, he put his hand – and potentially career – on the line so that his team could score some additional runs.

But should we really applaud such a culture wherein a player comes out in a vulnerable state and puts his career – and, most importantly, his well-being – on the line for a match?

After all, in the grandest scale of things and at the end of the day, a sports contest is just what it is: a match.

So, the question beckons, should we really laud a culture that promotes an athlete to put his health on the line for something as trivial as a sports match? Or should we question the pseudo-machoistic aura that it exudes?

Humankind has always found some sadistic pleasure in violence. This has been the case for centuries. Back in the days of Roman gladiators, people in the Colosseum cheered warriors ripping each other out until one of them perished to the fangs of death.

Somehow, people found pleasure in that carnage. And while we might not cheer such explicit brutality anymore, we still find an adrenaline rush when a sportsperson plays through the pain barrier.

And this culture should change now, especially at the Bangladesh Cricket Board.

'The moment I arrived in the hospital, the doctors told me that I have to get the pus out as soon as possible,' Shakib Al Hasan was quoted as saying. 'Any delay would put me in great danger as the infection spread till my wrist. If I had waited another few days, my wrist would have become disabled.”

To understand what happened here, we have to go back in January 2018 when Bangladesh were playing the final of a tri-nation series against Sri Lanka. The Bangladesh Test and T20I captain injured his little finger in that match and had to subsequently withdraw not only from that final but also the following Test and T20I series against Sri Lanka.

He was also set to miss the Nidahas trophy but was asked by BCB president Nazmul Hasan Papon to fly to Sri Lanka and take part in the last two games of the tournament – something which the BCB chief prides himself for.

When the president of a cricket board asks its best player to come back and play despite not fully recovering from his injury, it gives a damning insight of how injuries are looked at in the BCB headquarters.

After that, Shakib went on to play a T20I series against Afghanistan in India and took complete part in the West Indies tour. Upon returning, Shakib Al Hasan revealed that his finger needs surgery to stop further aggravation of the injury.

“We all know that surgery is needed [on the finger]. We are having discussions on where and when to do it. I think that it would be better if we do it as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying after the West Indies tour.

“It [the surgery] will most probably happen before the Asia Cup.

“I want the surgery done soon because I don’t want to play without being fully fit. Hence, I think it is normal if the surgery is done before the Asia Cup.”

However, despite Shakib’s desire to sort out the issue as soon as possible, Nazmul Hasan openly informed the media that he was against the idea of the all-rounder missing the Asia Cup.

“The Asia Cup is expected to be [a] tough tournament and during that time if a player of Shakib's stature doesn't play, chances are high that the morale of the team might go down,” Nazmul Hasan said.

“I will talk with Shakib today or tomorrow regarding it. But I prefer if it is done at some other time [instead of during Asia Cup].”

In the end, the decision was made: Shakib Al Hasan flew to the United Arab Emirates to take part in the Asia Cup.

No-one can feel the body better than the person it belongs to. The slow left-arm bowler knew that he needed a surgery in order to avoid further intricacies but his boss had other plans.

Nazmul Hasan might have stated that the final decision belonged to Shakib exclusively, but the truth is that the pressure to play had already been implanted in his mind and when the BCB physio gave him the assurance that it would be okay to play with the injury, Shakib chose to go ahead.

Once again, the pseudo-macho culture played a part and almost ruined the functionality of a world-class player’s left hand.

And this is not just exclusive to cricket.

One of the most recent – and, definitely, most grueling – example is that of former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla. The details shall be spared from here as they can be found in this excellent interview of him.

The story, in short, is that Cazorla got a knock in the 20th minute in a friendly encounter against Chile while playing for Spain. He didn’t think much of it and continued playing till the 90th minute.

This was where it all began but definitely not where it ended. After a result of a few more factors, it had been found that an infection had consumed 10 cm of his tendon, making his bone squishy and putting him at a real risk of amputation.

In the end, doctors had to use a muscle from his hamstring to construct a tendon for his ankle. All of this started because he kept playing through the pain barrier and, as a repercussion that this culture brings, was not treated properly in the beginning, just like how  the physio at BCB thought it was okay for Shakib to play.

BCB actually don’t have to go to another sport to understand this. When Mashrafe Mortaza was making a name for himself as a teenager, Andy Roberts, who coached him in the U19 training camp back in the day, specifically asked the management to not over-bowl him.

Subsequently, the management did the exact opposite of what the legendary former West Indian had instructed. And now, Mashrafe’s knees are perennially damaged and is almost certainly going to make him retire earlier than he should have.

The argument here is that playing through injury puts the players in the top echelons of immortality. However, nobody remembers the names of the gladiators that died in the Colosseum thousands of years ago and it is unlikely that anyone will, in the grandest scale of things, remember such an athlete thousands of years from now either, even with modern technology's power of saving moments through videos. 

And even if they are, what's the point of such glory if it leads to a severe handicap? Isn't it better to preserve oneself for the future as a means to be an asset for the team for years to come?

This is a pattern that is brewed out of the pseudo-macho culture that has been stated above. A culture that promotes a sports event more than the health of an athlete.

A culture where enough is not enough.

And it is a culture that needs to be changed.


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Picture credit: ESPNCricinfo

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