Games and sports imitate life in more ways than none. There are struggles to rise to the pinnacle or pole position. Against the sweetest success, there are heart-breaking defeats too. Even the world's leading player has to leave the stage ---at times in tears. But as long as the darling of loving crowds moves on the court and hogs spotlight, they always expect him to deliver and triumph.
Unfortunately, games and sports are meant for the young. Even chess which does not require physical techniques is not for the old to shine. Some of the disciplines like gymnastics crown the teenagers when the body is supple. Let alone the unconventional sports, the more conventional and highly popular sports demanding exceptional physical fitness, stamina, strength, skills and mental toughness such as tennis, football, hockey, baseball, basketball, volleyball, badminton and cricket dislike aging and welcome fresh blood.
Boxing and wrestling could be included in the category but those have been deliberately left out here because, although popular among a segment of viewers, the physical pounding in one and the playacting in another qualify them to be off-beat sports. Notwithstanding the Boxing legend Muhammad Ali's art in the ring, the Parkinson's disease he suffered in his advanced age most likely had its origin in the blows he suffered against opponents.
Better it would be to concentrate on tennis, football and cricket ---the last too being highly popular in this country. Tennis may not be as popular as those two but here is a game that really brings the best in a sportsperson for over a long period of time. Take the example of Roger Federer, former No.1 in the world. With 103 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) singles titles and 20 Grand Slam titles to his credit, he has ruled the tennis circuit for over two decades.
But the Swiss player's iconic figure remains incomplete if his thrilling and absorbing competitions with two other tennis greats in the shape of Rafael Nadal of Spain and Novak Djokovic of Serbia are taken into account. The trio will go down in the history of tennis as the greatest of all time. He has already been surpassed by Nadal and Djokovic with 22 and 21 Grand Slams to their names respectively.
They have played in an era against each other to lift tennis to its highest limit. Now age seems to have caught up with at least two of them. Injury kept both Federer and Nadal away from tennis. Although Nadal returned to defy injuries and win two more Grand Slam titles to take the tally to 22, the highest by an individual, Federer's return proved disappointing. Djokovic is likely to carry the legacy for a few more years. He had a chance of capturing two more Grand Slam titles this year but for his refusal to get vaccinated against coronavirus. He was sent back from Australia and he may not even be allowed to enter the USA for the US Open.
Now Federer and Nadal may have to call it a day. Their aging and injury afflicted bodies may no longer be equal to the gruelling and punishing display on courts in a tournament. This is what gives a sense of departure from limelight for sportspersons even when they are relatively younger. Consider professionals of government and private services, they can serve up to 60 or 65 years.
No wonder, the monetary reward for players is astounding. Tennis players and boxers earn fabulous sums of prize money and they also have income from endorsement. On that count, footballers have contracts with clubs and sponsorship deals. All these and their investments allow them to build fortunes few can rival. But their careers are not long and they have to make their decisions on drawing the curtain on their professional life before others tell them to do so. Thus they end their career gracefully.
In this part of the world, the craze for cricket is at its astronomical. When Sachin Tendulkar said goodbye, he knew it was time. Not many however are aware that it was time for them to make the painful decision. But there are cases of dilemma like that of Virat Kohli.
As Virat Kohli's lean patch continues, now for as long as three years, great Kapil Dev did not mince words about the batter's place in the Indian team. He argued if Aswin, world's number two bowler in Test ranking, can be kept outside the squad, why should Kohli's place in the team be guaranteed?
The suggestion has triggered a stormy debate on the once-prolific batter's future in Team India. Surprisingly, both former greats and current cricketers deemed to attain greatness in the future disagree and think Kohli still has miles to go. Sure enough any other cricketer in his current form would have been shown the door but this batter aged only 33, with 70 centuries under his belt is a class apart and selectors, therefore, have to think twice before dumping him on the sideline.
Sportspersons, particularly the iconic among them, are celebrities of a different genre. Those who dominate the silver screen may have a larger following but so far as the international image is concerned, many sports personalities outdo the gifted actors and actresses of the tinsel towns.
Like the inevitability of death for any mortal, in sports also even the very best have to stop at some point. The important question is if they do it with dignity. In professions where there is no limit to retirement, some hangs on when they should have long gone. In such cases, their exit takes place in an unceremonious way.