Should India take on Pakistan in the international sporting arena?
BCCI boss Anurag Thakur doesn’t believe so.
The BJP leader, while ruling out resumption of cricketing ties with the rogue neighbour after the latest attacks from across the border at Uri, said:
“Keeping in mind that the government has adopted a new strategy to isolate Pakistan and in view of the public sentiment in the country, we request ICC not to put India and Pakistan in the same pool of the multi-nation tournaments. If the two countries reach the semi-finals and have to clash at that time, it is another situation which can’t be avoided.”
The statement above reeks of political opportunism while ignoring commercial considerations and the future success of ICC tournaments.
While it’s no one’s case that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism, to ask the ICC or any other sporting body to accommodate the Indian government’s views would be setting a bad precedent—if accepted.
What happens if Bangladesh or Afghanistan make similar demands? Will the ICC oblige?
What about other sporting events such as the Olympics or World Championships? Are Indian sports persons to refuse to take on Pakistani athletes in group encounters but not in knockout rounds?
Can the US decline to play North Korea or Iran in international competitions?
India last toured their north-west neighbours in a full-fledged series in 2004. The last bilateral series occurred in 2012 with the visitors drawing the T20 series and clinching the ODIs.
India are grouped with Pakistan for the 2017 Champions Trophy.
ICC President Dave Richardson said:
“No doubt we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event. Its hugely important from an ICC point of view. Its massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. Its fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”
It’s unlikely that the ICC will oblige Thakur by moving India out of the group. If the BCCI insists on making a political statement in the cricketing world, Team India might have to forfeit their game against their arch-rivals.
The men’s team are the only ones affected. The women’s side are slated to play Pakistan in a bilateral series. Should the tour be called off, their ODI ratings will be affected that may reduce their chances for automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.
Thakur’s statement was greeted with disdain across the border.
Mohammad Yousuf said:
“I just don’t understand what he wants to say. For the last eight years India has avoided playing us in a proper bilateral series even when relations were better.”
“The ICC keeps on saying it will not tolerate politics or government interference in member boards and the BCCI President is making political statements. Either he speak as a BJP leader or BCCI head.”
An unnamed Pakistan Cricket Board official said:
“It is an out and out political statement from the President of the BCCI. We are disappointed as we have been trying hard for a long time now to normalize cricket ties with India and we have always believed in keeping sports and politics apart.”
In another news report, sources within the PCB revealed that they do not take Thakur’s tirades seriously.
“If they really don’t want to play Pakistan at all would they be willing to forfeit the match against us in next year’s Champions Trophy. No changes can be made now so what is the purpose of such statements except to play to the galleries.
…But for public consumption he (Thakur) gives different statements.”
Were the UN to declare Pakistan a sponsor of terror and impose sanctions, then it’s possible that sporting bodies across the world could declare it ‘persona non grata’, much like South Africa was for its heinous policy of apartheid.
But until then, it’s downright foolish to expect to be able to avoid Pakistan in multilateral contests.
At the same time, to simply claim that sports and politics shouldn’t mix is being naïve in this age of realpolitik.
Sports is a metaphor for war without weapons or bloodshed.
It is also a vehicle for peace such as when the Pakistani premier visited India for the crucial quarter-final encounter during the 2011 World Cup paving the way for resuming cricketing ties even if it was short-lived.
The issue at hand is complex. Simplistic statements from the BCCI chief muddy the waters especially when he must and should know better.