The ‘Dhoni Gloves’ issue would have been a storm in a teacup, had it not been hijacked by self-seeking politicians and an ignorant, hyperventilating media in India, compounded by an incompetent BCCI-COA.
What was essentially a procedural/regulatory lapse — and should have been treated as such — was quite foolishly transformed into a shrill, hectoring debate on patriotism, national pride and what have you. The ICC’s objection to M.S. Dhoni wearing the ‘Balidaan’ insignia on his wicket-keeping gloves in the match against South Africa was seen as an affront to his – and by extension, every Indian’s — ‘nationalistic sentiments’, which it wasn’t.
The ICC simply scrutinized it through its rules for the tournament, unconcerned about the message or the sentiment behind it and deemed it as a contravention.
From the regulatory body, this was a fair call. All participating countries in the World Cup are signatories to these rules. Bending these for India, the ICC would be guilty of exceptionalism. The ICC taking action on violation of its rules is not unprecedented. In the 2014 England-India series, Moeen Ali, was banned for the remainder of the match from wearing a wristband carrying ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
Moeen had the support of his teammates and the ECB, but match referee David Boon decided that this was in violation of the ICC rules which does not permit “display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match’’.
True, unlike in Moeen’s case, the insignia worn by Dhoni does not carry any overt political, religious or racial message. But from the ICC’s point of view, there is no way of knowing how other teams/players would construe the matter.
Moreover, this could invite similar action, which could lead to an undesirable, even dangerous melee. For example, a player might want to thank his mother/father/girlfriend/boyfriend/pet, which is totally innocuous. If that is going from the sublime to the ridiculous, consider a New Zealand player wearing the legend ‘Sandpaper’ in the match against Australia. That would be outright provocative, as it obliquely attacks Steve smith and David Warner.
There can be an entire spectrum of such examples, which hardens the ICC’s position of not allowing ANY message/symbol unless prior approval is taken, which in Dhoni’s case wasn’t.
Looked at dispassionately, the ‘Balidaan’ insignia on his gloves does not enhance Dhoni’s patriotic sentiments, nor does it get diminished in its absence. The brouhaha is misplaced. It must also be acknowledged that Dhoni has never made a grand show of his feelings about the armed forces. He regularly trains with a section of the army, but has never sought to highlight this. Rather, he’s kept it under wraps.
The only time he’s brought it to public attention directly is when he received his Padma award in military uniform: a sterling gesture, one that made every Indian heart swell with pride.
So why did he wear the insignia this time?
It could be that he was unaware of the rules. In itself, this would be surprising for a cricketer of his vast experience and who has been part of several ICC tournaments.
It may be though that he knows the rules, but saw the insignia as a lucky charm (or a personal show of commitment), not anticipating so much significance would be attached to it, so much controversy created.
This is where the BCCI-COA showed up as thoroughly inept and bungling. It is incumbent on a country’s cricket establishment to ensure that all hygiene/sanitization matters pertaining to the team/players are addressed before it leaves for a tournament.
As Amrit Mathur, former COO of the BCCI tweeted, “Forget @cricketworldcup and @ICC, Dhoni’s gloves do not even meet the BCCI’s rules for logos in Ranji Trophy!...”
Instead of accepting its mistake, however, the COA sought to ride the wave of patriotic sentiment created by a TRP hungry media, asking the ICC to “show flexibility’’ which was turned down. Not for the first time, the BCCI-COA had to suffer embarrassment.
Earlier, after the Pulwama terror attack, it had petitioned the ICC to drop “terror states’’ from its tournament, even threatening to boycott the match against Pakistan, before backing off.
All told, there were four options before the ICC in the Dhoni matter:
1) Look the other way till somebody else complains.
2) Take the matter to all other teams and get their approval
3) Allow all players/teams to use equipment/apparel for personal messages
4) Ask Dhoni to remove the insignia
The first three options were fraught with administrative complexities and problems. The fourth was the only logical – and justified — option.