The infamous former Indian cricket team coach, Greg Chappell, had once said that the pressure on Indian cricketers is more than any other cricket team in the world. In his book, he stated that Indians treat their cricketing idols like celebrities, ‘if you win you become their god and if you lose they will not stop short of burning your posters.’
The man who got almost everything wrong in his short stint as coach of the Indian cricket team was certainly on the point with his assessment here. The game of cricket is more of an emotional rather than professional matter in India. While most cricket playing nations treat the game as a form of entertainment, cricket in India is a subject of great pride and honour. We treat our cricketers like soldiers who went to war and they return either as heroes or villains, there is simply no middle ground.
In a country of 1.6 billion, everyone has an opinion about every single step taken by the Indian cricket team.
The media frenzy that follows them everywhere has only intensified the popularity of the game and made superstars or super-flops out of every cricketer who has been lucky enough to don the blue jersey.
Cricketers themselves realise the pressure they have to shoulder while playing for the national team and consequently the image they portray. The scrutiny of the media and the 1.6 billion following the media has turned them into heroes in the eyes of many. They are the role models to the next generation and youth icons of the current one.
One particular sportsman who has risen to the pinnacle of Indian sports is Virat Kohli. The boy wonder who first burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old by leading India to the U-19 Cricket World Cup has lived up to his potential and is now one of the most prolific batsmen in the game. Virat’s exploits just didn’t stop with his batting prowess; he has mastered the art of captaincy as well and now leads the team across all three formats, achieving excellent results in the process as was evident in the 9-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka in the recently concluded tour.
For a man of such stature, Virat has had to evolve to stay on top. He is no longer the vibrant, rash young prodigy who would lose his cool one time too many. He has channelled his aggression into his game, and although still tends to get emotional from time to time, he has become an icon for this generation with his commitment to work and become the best.
The other side of Kohli has seen him endorse brands to get a flavour of the reel life, as every other top cricketer of the Indian team has done in the past. He now commands as an ambassador for over 18 brands and is a recognised voice of approval. One of the brands Virat has endorsed for the last six years is Pepsi. As their contract reached a closure this summer, Virat surprised Pepsi by refusing to sign an extension. The cold-drink brand which is worth Rs 22,000 crore in the market was left red-faced.
What Virat Kohli said
There has been a growing concern over Pepsi consumers’ health issues over the last few years with many health experts exposing the harmful and unhealthy ingredients used to prepare the famous drink.
A mixture of soda, sugar and water is hardly a prescription for a healthy life. Virat seems to have joined the bandwagon and has now decided to discontinue his partnership with the company. “If I myself won’t consume such things, I won’t urge others to consume it, just because I am getting money out of it,” said Virat in an interview with CNN-IBN.
“When I started my fitness turnaround, it was more of a lifestyle thing initially. If something goes away from that, I would not want to be a part of that or be promoting that.”
Virat’s decision to walk away from the multi-crore deal sets a precedent. He is not only the face of Indian cricket but also regarded as the trailblazer of the new crop of athletes who value the importance of fitness as an integral part of their game. It is, therefore, only right to see the man with the power to influence millions has set his agenda right and taken his responsibility as an icon seriously.
Virat has changed his game on and off the field over the last few years and mentioned he would no longer promote certain brands which he did in the past, without taking names of course.
Often compared to the little master, as the next legend of Indian cricket, Virat has certainly done his idol proud. One needs only to roll back a few years, when back in 2010, Sachin Tendulkar, the face of Indian Sports then, refused to endorse a liquor brand. Sachin’s case was then a one-off as it did not transpire into a trend.
Kohli is not the only one
However, Virat’s decision comes on the back of Sindhu’s agent speaking out about the importance of identifying the right brand for the right athlete. Athletes are globally followed and often regarded as trendsetters. The brands they promote reflects on their character, personality and the way fans perceive them.
It is therefore vital for them to be able to connect with the brand regarding who they are. Most brands jump in on athletes to ride on their immediate success and promote itself. Even though it is not the athlete who is the brand custodian, it still falls on him/her to be liable for what the brand represents. Moreover, the brands they endorse will, in turn, create a ripple effect by making their fans follow the same brand. This fact gives them an extra responsibility to choose their endorsements wisely and to ensure they do not lead a generation wrong.
Maybe other sportspeople can take the cue from Virat Kohli
A rare criticism can be made here of India’s greatest captain MS Dhoni who has a tie-up with Pepsi for years. Dhoni, considered one of the most intelligent cricketing minds ever to grace the game, would have done better by not promoting an unhealthy drink.
As the internet marches on and closes in the world around us, celebrities are beginning to realise the importance of their every little action.
More scrutiny and awareness are doing the rounds now, and the ones in the highlight will have to do well to tiptoe their way around any negative news. Virat’s decision to turn down one of the world’s biggest brands has made the news simply because he is the first of his kind not only to take a step in the right direction for himself but has also inspired fellow athletes to follow in his footsteps.
All hail, King Kohli.