Cropped Organ Donation
Clockwise (from top left): Gautam Gambhir, Anil Kumble, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Vinod Kambli © Getty Images

Cricketers Gautam Gambhir, Anil Kumble, Vinod Kambli and Navjot Singh Sidhu are some of the Indian celebrities who have pledged their organs for donation. In a country with a billion-strong population, there is a dearth of organ donation, and the involvement of iconic figures can help spread the message and shed preconceived notions. In Australia, David Hookes Foundation leads the cause and has helped create great awareness. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about the role of the cricket world in the organ donation movement.

Only 0.01 percent of India’s billion-strong population are organ donors, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). When compared to Western countries, where that number reads 70-80 percent, India falls woefully short. Call it a lack of awareness or age-old superstitions, organ donation isn’t a very acceptable procedure in India. This despite the fact that pledging ones organs may well save someone’s life.

Consider this: doctors say that although some people pledge their organs, their family and relatives often prevent the procedure due to their preconceived notions. A doctor was recently quoted by IANS, “People have weird thinking like donating organ can lead the individual to hell after death.” Gautam Gambhir, Anil Kumble, Vinod Kambli, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Bishan Singh Bedi and Kapil Dev are some of the Indian cricketers who have pledged their organs and voiced their support for the cause. In a country where cricketers are iconic figures, this move will help raise awareness for a noble initiative.

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the former India captain, donated his left eye on his death in 2011. Pataudi and his wife Sharmila were supporters of the cause and the former had wished to donate his one good eye on his death. A month down the line, Gautam Gambhir became the first cricketer to pledge all his organs.  In his message for the Gift Your Organ movement, Gambhir said, “I hereby pledge to donate my kidney, heart, liver, pancreas, small bowel, eyes, lungs and tissues after my death.” Kumble too joined the movement and highlighted the need for awareness in the country. Bedi and Kapil came in support in 2014.

In India, cricketers aren’t the only celebs who have pledged their organs. Bollywood personalities Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Farah Khan, R Madhavan, Aishwarya Rai, Nandita Das are some who are a part of the movement. Spiritual gurus Sri Sri Ravishankar and Baba Ramdev have also pledged their organs, which is significant considering their stature.

Australia leads the way

Australian cricket was plunged into sadness in January 2004 when David Hookes tragically passed away after a bar brawl. Hookes was taken too young but it wasn’t cricket alone where he left his mark. He had pledged to donate his organs. As many as ten people were saved by Hookes’ noble move and are indebted to him for a new life. This made an impact on the Australian society as numerous people then registered themselves for organ donation in the weeks after the incident. Hookes’ widow, Robyn, started a foundation in his memory, where you can register yourself as an organ donor. This foundation has since gone on to improve the lives of many people and created a rich legacy for Hookes.

Every year, a cricket match is played between an Indian Community XI and an Australian Transplant Cricket Club XI. They contest for the Hookes Family Jeevan Dhan Trophy. “Jeevan Dhan” translates to “the wealth of life” and through cricket, they aim to spread the message. This match is held by the David Hookes Foundation in collaboration with the Indian Welfare Association.

There is also a Transplant Cricket Inc. which has found support from various cricket bodies Down Under. Rob Quiney and Alex Keath, two Victorian cricketers, are brand ambassadors. Daniel Smith and Stephen O’Keefe are their ambassadors from New South Wales. Gary Gilmour, the former Australian all-rounder, was in fact a beneficiary as he received a liver in 2005. Thereafter, he was a supporter of this drive until his death in 2014.

It isn’t in Australia alone that cricketers are playing their part. Miles away in the British Isles, Scotland’s cricketers also supported the cause. With their national team featuring players from diverse communities, the message was spread across a huge Diaspora. They mainly urged the Asian, African and the other ethnic minorities to pledge their organs. “As a multicultural sport, Cricket Scotland is very pleased to support such a worthwhile campaign. We hope that by being part of raising awareness on the issue that more people sign-up to be organ donors and ultimately help save lives,” said Roddy Smith, CEO of Cricket Scotland.

Through that, one story stands out. When the 24-year-old Craig Bottig passed away in 2013, his parents agreed to donate his organs and that saved many lives. His heart came to the rescue of a man who needed one urgently. His kidneys and pancreas also helped a few others. Bottig died suddenly and that cut short a fledging career as he aspired to reach higher. Sussex wore black armbands in his memory during one of their games.

Sport is a universal language they say and cricket can play its part to spread the message of love and brotherhood. Even in death, Hookes’ memory lives on. He has become a figure bigger than a cricketer.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)