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When sport does become a religion - Sorry Shoaib in global gaffe

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RASHEED KIDWAI AND OUR BUREAU Published 26.09.07, 12:00 AM

Sept. 25: Shoaib Malik had forgotten about Man-of-the-Match Irfan Pathan.

Moments after losing the ICC World Twenty20 final yesterday, the Pakistan captain apologised to Muslims the world over.

“I want to thank everyone back home in Pakistan and Muslims all over the world. Thank you very much and I’m sorry that we didn’t win, but we did give our 100 per cent,” Malik said.

Did he think Irfan, who got him out, and his brother Yusuf Pathan were sorry to see Pakistan lose?

Muslim leaders and sportsmen in India today condemned the remarks, though some gave Malik the benefit of the doubt.

Delhi Minorities Commission chief Kamal Farooqui said: “How dare he speak like this? Are there no non-Muslim supporters of Pakistan inside or outside his own country? His remarks insult Hindu and Christian citizens of Pakistan, too.”

Hockey Olympian Aslam Sher Khan, however, said: “I think the poor guy got a little carried away. You must also look at his limitations with English and that he was speaking after a defeat.”

“I think Malik should apologise to everyone for causing distress,” said Madhya Pradesh Ranji player Suhail Ansari. “But we must understand he is not a politician.”

Malik may have been influenced by his team’s dressing room culture. Last year, Pakistan cricket boss Nasim Ashraf had told the players to stop praying in public and holding religious meetings in their hotels amid concerns the team was being used by zealots.

Years ago, another Pakistan skipper had caused controversy by asking the world’s Muslims to pray for his team’s victory against an Indian side that included Syed Kirmani.

Farooqui said, “I remember that once when Pakistan lost to Bangladesh, Wasim Akram spoke of losing to a ‘brother nation’. These remarks go against the basis of sportsmanship.”

The Indian team, whose first three World Cup wins over Pakistan came under Mohammed Azharuddin’s captaincy, has not been known to mix sport and religion but its fans have a mixed record.

The Bajrang Dal, VHP and the RSS held a victory march in Rajouri, Jammu, after the game, stoking Hindu-Muslim violence that has injured at least 20 people. Some drunken marchers allegedly shouted provocative slogans and burst crackers outside a mosque where Ramazan prayers were under way.

In cosmopolitan Mumbai, some innocuous and some poor SMS jokes targeting Pakistanis did the rounds.

Malik’s comments may reflect the extreme pressure on Pakistani players not to lose to India — a sentiment equally strong in India in the reverse. Fans in Lahore today burnt effigies of Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi.

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