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IBSA: India Cheers for Brazil, South Africa

Sujoy Dhar

KOLKATA, India, May 23 2011 (IPS) - When it comes to sports, India has always cheered for Brazil in soccer. Now come another three cheers, this time for South Africa in cricket. The reason: a South African named Gary Kirsten who coached India to win the Cricket World Cup this year, for the first time in 28 years.

Kirsten is back home in South Africa, now that the 2011 Cricket World Cup is over, but parting with his Indian fans and teammates was not easy. “It has been one of the hardest goodbyes I have had to say,” Kirsten told journalists before he left.

It is here, on the field and on the street that ideas about IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) are coming alive.

Kiran More, former Indian cricketer and chief of national selectors, says what Kirsten brought to Indian cricket and its team is incomparable, and he could do so because he understood the culture of the country.

“He is from South Africa and there are lots of Indians living there. So he knew our culture and he did a wonderful job,” says More, speaking to IPS. “He now enjoys the highest respect from Indians. Gary has his own style of functioning and the way he handled the senior players is praiseworthy.”

Kirsten has made South Africa a focus of adulation in cricket, which people here liken to a religion. South Africa will now share centre stage with Brazil, the country Indians root for when it comes to soccer.

During soccer World Cup games, the soccer mania turns violent, as in the clashes of the fans of two archrival clubs – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. But Brazil unites the people when it comes to international soccer and World Cup allegiance.

In India’s eastern city Kolkata, the palette of soccer is yellow-green, the colours of Brazil. Barring the hysteria over Argentina’s Diego Maradona, the West Bengal state of 90 million people of which Kolkata is the capital, soccer fans live, drink and sleep Brazil during the World Cup games.

A walk down the streets of Kolkata during the World Cup will be like strolling down the streets of Rio de Janeiro, as the walls are covered in graffiti of yellow-green and Brazilian soccer stars.

It is not just the walls. During the World Cup and on the days of Brazil’s encounters in the field, youngsters paint their faces yellow and green, gripped by the Samba fever.

A famous visit by Brazilian soccer legend Pele in 1977 is still etched in the memory of every Kolkatan— from the fans to the soccer players of the town then who recall those emotional moments more than 34 years ago.

In 2006, Brazilian Carlos Roberto Pereira Da Silva was appointed the head coach of Kolkata’s glamour outfit East Bengal. Djair Miranda Garcia, a Brazilian, is now physical coach of another famous soccer outfit of India—the Chirag United Sports Club.

But India wants more and has formally requested Brazil to send soccer coaches for the development of football in India. When Brazil’s foreign minister Antonio Patriota met his Indian counterpart S. M. Krishna in New Delhi in March this year, the latter asked him to send coaches to India for training players here.

They even issued a joint statement that said, “The Ministers reiterated the need for enhancing cooperation in sports under the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed in February 2008 between India and Brazil and welcomed the initiative to celebrate the decade of sports in Brazil. They also welcomed the proposal of sending football coaches to India for training of Indian players.”

Former football player and now expert commentator Prasun Banerjee says “Only a Brazilian can take Indian soccer forward. It is because we are both skill-based and we have many things in common.

“No other country can help us more in soccer than Brazil,” Banerjee adds. “We need Brazilian coaches. Our food habits are similar – Bengalis are sold on fish and rice— while we genuinely love Brazil.”

Aside from common food preferences, soccer experts attribute this affinity to the physical similarity between the players of Brazil and India.

With South Africa, that affinity is cultural. Cricket pundits feel Kirsten successfully coached India owing to the understanding of Indian culture, something he perhaps imbibed from the large Indian diaspora in South Africa.

Kirsten himself was effusive about the victory and the love he received from India.

“I’m very grateful to have played a part in this victory, which means so much to all of India,” he says. “The past three years have been a privilege for me as I have learned about India and got to know not only the talented cricketers but also the many, many wonderful people I have met over this time.”

Now, it is not just trade and commerce, but sports as well, that binds the people of India with South Africa and Brazil, like they do in few other countries.

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