Zugzwang

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Noun

[German, from Zug move +Zwang compulsion, obligation]
CHESS. A position in which a player
must move but cannot do so without disadvantage

THE CHESS player has to make a move (there is no concept of ‘pass’ in the sport), but any move he makes will only weaken his position. This is ‘zugzwang’, the word of the year for me. Although the German word was used in this sense only around the 19th century, the concept clearly has existed for centuries. A good recent example is the US position in Afghanistan: withdraw or fight on? Neither is particularly appealing, and each comes with its own set of problems.

India’s plan to bid for the 2019 Asian Games is another good example. On one hand, it will serve to show up our own inadequacies as a sporting nation because if there is one thing the sports fraternity is aware of, it is that the more things change, the more they remain the same. At the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, India won 14 gold medals (64 overall), finishing behind Iran and Kazakhstan.

China, the country we like to equate ourselves with, had 199 gold and 416 medals overall. Forget the continent, we were not even on the same planet.

We may or may not get more than 14 medals in 2019, but — and this is the other arm of the zugzwang — we can be sure that there will be an increase in other areas.

Budget. Corruption. Political manoeuvres. And the frequency with which Churchill is invoked every time our ageing, decrepit sports officials take the country for a ride. So often have so many owed so much to so few that the Ambanis and the Premjis will have to make way for these sports officials. Sadly, they cannot figure in the Forbes List because the money they make is unaccounted wealth and will not show up in their income tax returns.

Suresh Kalmadi will continue to confuse the country’s honour with personal aggrandisement. Lalit Bhanot would have entered his 32nd year as secretary of the athletics federation, and VK Malhotra, a sprightly 87, would have been the president of the archery association for 40. Even the Pandavas may not have had such an intimate association with archery over so many decades. And India didn’t win an Olympic gold in the sport in their time either.

Indian sports can be divided into two — cricket and the rest. Zugzwang operated in cricket too.

The BCCI’s careful nurturing of the No. 1 ranking (in Tests) meant that we avoided playing in Australia and South Africa, but were happy to invite these teams to play at home and beat them. Our favourites were New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Forced to tour South Africa finally, we began with our worst batting of the year, 136 all out. Fine as long as we sat at home, we were exposed on our first day in the country rated No. 2 behind us.

Zugzwang. A lovely word. Indian sport at the crossroads. One road led to disaster and shame, the other to humiliation and financial skulduggery. Did we choose wisely?

talmenon@yahoo.coms

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