Opinion: Cricketing relations with Pakistan should not be subject to diplomatic and bureaucratic agendas.
Last Sunday the town of Birmingham saw the largest crowd it had ever seen gather for a one-day cricket match. The match also saw nearly a billion T.V. viewers, according to The Telegraph. The occasion: yet another clash of the sub-continental giants India and Pakistan.
But the Champions trophy is now one of the rare cases of the rivals facing each other as political and bureaucratic agendas start clouding over the field.
In response to the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) request for permission to play in bilateral series against Pakistan, the Government of India has reiterated its stance that there can be no bilateral cricketing ties between the nations in the current situation.
It is no secret that an India-Pakistan clash is a big-ticket event in a cricket fan’s calendar. The two countries have met in every ICC event since the 2011 World Cup, and have a long history of engaging clashes.
The BCCI had sought permission from the government after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had sent a notice of dispute to the BCCI for the losses it had incurred after the 2015 series was not held. In May 2014, the BCCI and the PCB had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to play six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023. Subject to government approval, India and Pakistan were supposed to play 14 Tests, 30 ODIs and 12 T20Is.
The BCCI has maintained that no legal document was signed regarding the series and that cricket with Pakistan was subject to government approval. The two teams at present play each other only in International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments.
The minister for Youth Affairs and Sports in India, Vijay Goel squarely dismissed the idea of an India-Pakistan bilateral series stating that “cricket and terrorism can’t go hand-in-hand.” “BCCI should talk to government first before giving any proposal. Bilateral series in the current situation is not possible,” the Sports Minister said on the day BCCI-PCB met in Dubai to discuss bilateral ties.
Though one understands the necessity of taking up issues of terrorism and violations of peace at the border strictly, is extending the brittleness to the field helpful?
Granted the denial of direct sporting engagement sends a ‘strong message’. But when every form of engagement between the two nations is emphasizing on an already well-known hostility, shouldn’t we keep at least the channel of sporting open for another kind of dialogue? Can the strong message instead be of possible dialogue, acceptance and cordial engagement?
Sports have always been a big factor in connecting people across borders and cultures. One can find examples in history where countries with stained ties have played each in sporting ties successfully, the India-Pakistan clashes of the past being the very best example.
Post the Kargil War of 1999, India toured Pakistan in 2004 resuming the broken cricketing ties. The series was a success and was considered to be a milestone in India-Pakistan cricketing relations which always managed to transcend political and bureaucratic differences. India-Pakistan cricket matches have also offered opportunities for cricket diplomacy as a means to improve relations between the two countries by allowing heads of state to exchange visits and cricket followers from either country to travel to the other to watch the matches.
Since 2014, an India-Pakistan clash has been a permanent fixture in the preliminary rounds of a tournament. For the India-Pakistan clash in the 2015 ICC World Cup, a record 288 million viewers tuned in from India alone. So much so that ICC’s chief executive Dave Richardson admitted that the draw was rigged to ensure that India play Pakistan at the upcoming Champions Trophy.
All these statements point to only one fact: an India-Pakistan match generates the highest interest among cricket fans, advertisers, sponsors and the administrators. By enforcing its political and bureaucratic stance in sports, the government is not helping anyone’s cause.
It is also effectively stopping the two boards from reaping rewards off probably the most lucrative broadcasting and advertising rights for a cricket fixture in, well, all of cricketdom (not that we think the BCCI is in dire need of money though).
The Indian government steadfastly today holds on to its stance of non-engagement (or more like engagement by non-engagement). And before someone decides that those batting for cricket-diplomacy are Pak-sympathiser, we would like to have our say. And it is this: engage. Play. It is truly more than just a game, and instead of being the obdurate party incapable of setting aside bilateral issues for the larger good of sports in the region and the interest of the fans, India should play the role of the visionary in cricketing it has always hoped of becoming.
The limelight’s yours, India.
Featured image: Google images.