Army Special Forces Badge on Dhoni’s Gloves

Photographs of Indian cricketer MS Dhoni sporting the Army Special Forces badge, the winged dagger with the words ‘Balidan’ meaning ‘sacrifice’, on his gloves while playing at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 have flooded both the electronic and print media. It is a subject of debate, intense in some case on social media. As reported in the news, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has raised objection on Dhoni wearing such insignia on his gloves. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) first responded that they would seek approval of the ICC. However, when ICC did not agree to their request, BCCI has stated that it will stand by its player (read Dhoni). This means that Dhoni is free to continue wearing the gloves with the Army Special Forces insignia.

The BCCI no doubt is the richest cricket body in the world with an operating income of about Rupees 1,365.35 crores. But before snubbing the ICC in this manner, did BCCI examine the issue in its entire perspective, sought advice from the army or is it just the oomph of money power that resulted in the ‘we care two hoots’ stance against the ICC objection? Did the BCCI go back to ICC for clarifying why ICC was objecting in the first place? Did the BCCI think for a moment how other countries and teams participating in the ICC World Cup would view this whole episode?

There is no doubt that MS Dhoni loves the forces. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army and he sports a maroon beret when wearing uniform since he has undergone paratrooper training. His spirit as an army man is indicative of the fact that he even traveled to Dras in Jammu and Kashmir during a ‘Kargil Diwas’ to pay homage to the martyrs of the 1999 Kargil Conflct. If he is sporting the ‘Balidan’ badge on his gloves it may be deduced that it is because of his love for the uniform. But the question is whether he is correct in doing so, was he properly advised, and is the BCCI snubbing ICC in the abovementioned manner correct?

Bollywood, Collywood or moves made at regional level in India at times are notorious, with actors wearing hilarious uniforms, with weird combinations of badges of rank, medals, ribbons, lanyards and other accoutrements, belts, berets, shoes and what not. Some by default are even disrespectful to the concerned service because they show them in poor light, especially when the movie is not a comedy. But movies are movies and since producers and directors, possibly the Indian Motion Pictures Association are clueless about military uniforms, these are laughed off. But Dhoni is not acting in a Bollywood movie. He is part of the team representing India in the World Cup at the international stage, witnessed by millions across the globe.

The ‘Balidan’ badge that Dhoni is sporting on his gloves is a coveted insignia of Army Special Forces, which is earned by an individual after passing successfully through a grueling probation period. Dhoni has done no such probation, has not earned the ‘Balidan’ badge, and even if he had, he could wear it only with his uniform at the designated place on the pocket of his uniform shirt, not by any chance while playing cricket. No individual serving with Army Special Forces would be permitted to sport the ‘Balidan’ badge on say his boxing gloves. In a manner it is showing disrespect to the badge itself.

The BCCI would not have the foggiest idea that the ‘Winged Dagger’ is also the Special Forces badge of the British SAS. In fact, when the Army Special Forces were established in the Indian Army, the Winged Dagger was borrowed from the British SAS and the word ‘Balidan’ was inscribed on it. It is obvious that the British, particularly the SAS, would find Dhoni’s gloves with the same badges obnoxious. By continuing to wear these gloves, Dhoni himself will become a laughing stock, even though he may have done it in good faith, not be design.

The BCCI needs to stop such tomfoolery on playfields, least other players start doing the same. By snubbing ICC without analyzing the issue, BCCI has depicted itself an obstinate organization that bothers little for any reasoning by others. The retort ‘we stand by our player” needs to be reviewed. If norms of attire on the playfield, especially during international events are permitted to be violated, why should Dhoni not wear his Lieutenant Colonel ranks on the playfield?

Whether BCCI has the sense to view the above as an international embarrassment is not known with Committee of Administrators chief Vinod Rai stating that the Balidan Badge is not an army symbol; perhaps for him it symbolizes a village headman or a patwari. If this is the understanding of Vinod Rai, a former IAS officer, little can be expected from Ravi Shastri despite his Don Bosco schooling. Perhaps, it is time for Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Kirin Rijiju to step in.


Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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