The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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If sports is war minus the shooting as George Orwell had quipped, then Indo-Pak cricket is both war and peace-making rolled into one. It is a proxy war because jingoism during the matches between India and Pakistan touches a note of hysteria. It is peace-making because during an Indian tour of Pakistan and vice versa, there is a degree of give-and-take between the people of two countries and between the players of the two teams. The latter aspect has been conspicuous by its absence in the last few years because India has refused to play Pakistan on south Asian soil. This has not diminished popular enthusiasm as was evident when India played Pakistan during the last World Cup in South Africa. The involvement of the fans in that match reached such a fever pitch that it appeared as if it was the final match of the tournament when, in fact, it was just a group match. The element of war hysteria referred to above was evident in the hostile reception given to the Pakistani players when they returned home. It is because of this level of popular involvement that an Indo-Pak cricket encounter has become a money spinner. It attracts the largest number of spectators on the ground, on the television, and on the basis of this, it attracts endorsements and sponsors. When India plays Pakistan in cricket, the noble English summer game suddenly becomes big business.

It appears from recent reports that because of reasons related to politics, both India and Pakistan are ready to surrender the lucre that accrues from an Indo-Pak cricket match. The cricket boards of the two countries are willing to organize matches, but they cannot do so either in India or in Pakistan. The chances are that such a match, when it takes place, will happen in Sri Lanka or in Sharjah or in Toronto. This means that because of Indo-Pak hostilities and the short-sightedness of the two governments, organizers in Sri Lanka, Sharjah or Toronto will go laughing all the way to the bank. This is indeed an odd situation which has to do with the imbrication of politics with cricket. This has acted as a spoiler for cricket and now it threatens to spoil business.

Cricket between India and Pakistan has come to acquire communal overtones. This is a direct fallout of the rise of religious fundamentalism in both countries. In the eyes of most Indians, a cricket match becomes an imitation of an Indo-Pak war. What is worse is that it also becomes an occasion for Muslim-baiting since it is automatically assumed that all Muslims support Pakistan. A match with Pakistan thus often becomes a law-and-order problem in the country, and this is aided and abetted by the kind of rhetoric and sentiment expressed by leaders like Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Both India and Pakistan are now poised to lose a fair bit of money because of the prevailing situation. Neither country can quite afford this. There is more riding on the peace initiatives of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee than a resolution of the Kashmir problem and the end of cross-border terrorism. Cricket has lost because of politics, it might now gain from it.

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