Cricket and Politics

The T20 World Cup is an international tournament organized by the ICC (International Cricket Council). This time, India is the venue for this tournament. As the host, India has the legal and moral responsibility to ensure the security of all participating teams. In case it is unable to do so, it forfeits the right to hold such a tournament.
Pakistan is scheduled to play against India on March 19, 2016 at Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Pakistan is also to play matches at Kolkata and Mohali. If it reaches the semi-final and final, Pakistan could be playing in New Delhi and Mumbai/Kolkata as well. The itinerary of this tournament was worked out by the ICC one year ago, in consultation with India. If India had any problems in hosting Pakistan, it should have declined holding the tournament.
A crisis has developed recently because HP Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh warned in a letter to Indian Interior Minister Rajnath Singh that the Pakistan-India match at Dharamsala will not be allowed to take place and his government would not provide security to the Pakistan team. He claimed that two of the soldiers who were killed in the recent terrorist attack at Pathankot were from his state. Holding the match in HP “would hurt the sentiments of the martyrs’ families” that could affect the law and order.
It is notable that the avowedly secular Congress party holds power in HP whereas the BJP, known for its anti-Pakistan views, is ruling the central government. Of course, Pakistan-baiting is common for both parties, as it evidently secures votes. In this particular instance, the roles of the two parties have got reversed. It is the BJP which is behaving more responsibly. The BCCI is the top cricketing body in India and its secretary Thakur is a BJP man. He has criticized the HP government for its stance and said: “There should be no politics in sports. Cancelling the match by saying we cannot provide security will defame the state and the country.” A BCCI official Shukla noted that the Union Home Minister had assured that central paramilitary forces would be provided to ensure security for the Dharamsala match. The BCCI, on its part, has also directly assured foolproof security to the Pakistan cricket board.
The situation has improved as the HP High Court, where the stance of the Chief Minister was challenged, has passed orders that the state government will perform its legal obligation to maintain law and order. The HP government later assured the High Court on March 4 that it would provide the requisite security for the Dharamsala match.
The stance of the HP Chief Minister has naturally caused concern in Pakistan, which expects that the security of Pakistani cricketers as well as Pakistani spectators must be ensured by India. After a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar announced that a three-member security team was being sent to assess the security arrangements in India. Clearance for the Pakistan cricket team’s participation in the T20 tournament will be given only if the security team is satisfied with the Indian arrangements.
The ruling BJP party in India is usually two steps ahead of Congress in anti-Pakistan venom. But financial considerations are extremely important in the context of the T20 championship, which is likely to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from diverse sources. This is probably the explanation why the BJP government has shown some maturity in trying to defuse the threats against the Pakistan team. If Pakistan does not participate in the championship due to security concerns, a part of the financial benefits will be gone. It is also possible that Pakistan’s exclusion could jeopardize the tournament itself. That would be a huge financial disaster. India does not want to deprive itself of this financial windfall, though it should be pointed out that other cricketing nations, including Pakistan, will also be sharing this bonanza. Rules suggest that the ICC could even ban India from holding such tournaments, but this is unlikely to happen since India has a big clout inside ICC. In any case, India’s reputation as a responsible country will also suffer if Pakistan does not participate due to failure to provide security.
Of course, this is not the first time that political parties in India –such as Shiv Sena— have opposed the holding of matches played by Pakistani cricket teams in India. There have been instances when cricket pitches were damaged. Unpleasant incidents took place during some matches with spectators resorting to throwing of stones or other objects inside the playing area. In one instance, some sections of the stadium were set on fire and the game had to be suspended. All of this shows ill-behaviour and a total lack of sportsman spirit. The contrast is manifest as nothing of this kind ever happened in Pakistan when Indian cricket teams came on tour. On the other contrary, the hospitality shown by ordinary Pakistanis shamed even the most rabid Indian nationalists.
There is huge interest among cricket fans in India in the Pakistan-India match at Dharamsala. Its stadium has a seating capacity of 25,000 whereas 140,000 people have already registered for online tickets. There is some speculation that the match might be shifted to some other venue in India if there are any doubts about the security arrangements in Dharamsala. There is also something illogical about the Indian behaviour. Hardly any protests have been made when Pakistani hockey and wrestling teams or Pakistani athletes have visited India. Somehow, it is cricket that is targeted for such display of hostility. Similarly, India has been playing cricket matches against Pakistan in other countries. Cricket is the biggest sport in both India and Pakistan. The India-Pakistan cricket rivalry is one of the most intense rivalries in the world, paralleled only by the England-Australia rivalry for the Ashes. An India-Pakistan match can attract up to one billion viewers. It seems so manifestly absurd to deprive fans in both countries and in other parts of the world from the excitement generated by cricket matches between these two countries. One hopes that sense will prevail in India and the Pakistan team will be able to play its matches in India as scheduled.

By Shahid M Amin, the writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.