Ever since the warring states of ancient Greece discovered the Olympian route to accord as an alternative way to show off collective strength through individual athletes, sports and politics are unfortunately entwined. Since sports is called an extension of war and politics, not diplomacy, has war by other means, terror, become the new partner of sports in the subcontinent? Indian peaceniks and sports marketers have a stake in both—mourn the merciless massacre of Indian security forces while cheering players at India-Pakistan cricket matches. Innocent lives are collateral damage in such financial pragmatism, which deems return on investments as the ultimate karma.
Ever since a Pakistan-sponsored suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF jawans in Pulwama, India is not in the mood to play ball with its neighbour, who thrives on bombing the blameless. Bowing to public pressure, the Centre has compelled BCCI to boycott the World Cup match against Pakistan scheduled for June in London. It is not just the gun-toting terrorists trained in jihadi camps who cross the Kashmir border in search of Indian uniforms to kill or maim. Pakistani literati, chatterati, artistes and sportspersons happily travel to India, attending parties, acting in films, selling merchandise and taking millions of dollars in cash back home.
The Indian elite, wearing the Partition as a macabre medallion of forgiveness and tolerance, is only too happy to display their proximity to the rich and famous from Lahore and Karachi. Of all the Pakistanis who benefit from Indian magnanimity, the most favoured are the cricket players—darlings of the Indian upper class. For example, cricket legend and Pak PM Imran Khan was both a permanent fixture at parties in Mumbai and Delhi and a sought after thought leader, whose fee was in greenbacks. Look at him now. He speaks the language of a fundamentalist in denial. He refutes the fact that India has been attacked by players supported by the Pakistan establishment and agencies like the ISI. Like his predecessors, he has asked for evidence. He got an appropriate response from a former officer and a gentleman, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who sneered: “What kind of evidence? Does he want dead bodies of his own men to be sent to him?”
Since Imran has lost his identity as a cricketer and become the Pak military’s captive prime minister, only a fatal blow to his first love cricket would force him to introspect and revive the world-class cricketer in him. The 100 million cricket-loving Pak nationals would only like the game to flourish. The fear of the slow death of cricket could force the bloodthirsty Pak Army to review Imran’s anti-India stance marginally, though never entirely. One hopes a ban on Pak cricketers would break their stony hearts more than the vicarious kick they get when terror squads kill innocent Indian civilians and security personnel. Imran’s dilemma is to choose between a cricket lover and a jihad promoter.
Pakistani cricket has been financially bleeding because many world cricket teams refuse to play in the country. After the 2009 terror attack on the visiting Sri Lanka cricket team, the International Cricket Council has outlawed Pakistan as a venue for holding international games. Pakistan is now forced to host its own league matches in Dubai, spending an ill-affordable $100 million plus on players, venue and other facilities. The Pakistan Cricket Board is unable to find prominent coaches to train its team. Its domestic stadiums are in a moribund state and the government is in no position to fund cricket promotion. The tactical munificence of a visiting Saudi prince is not enough to revive Pak cricket, whose players are deprived of domestic and international exposure. Stories of budding Pakistani cricketers missing their icons in action are causing emotional stress to their families.
The clamour for banning Pakistan is not political, but is based on its failure to contain terror both at home and elsewhere. India is in a commanding position to set the agenda for cricket diplomacy. We provide over 75 per cent of the total funds to most of the cricketing nations. The Indian Premier League curated by Lalit Modi commands a valuation of over $2.40 billion. Its growing global viewership has enabled IPL to sell the broadcasting rights for around $1.8 billion. A major chunk goes to various cricket players. The IPL can proudly claim to have created myriad cricket billionaires and millionaires, including some from Pakistan. A couple of Pak players got more money from the IPL for a six-week tournament than they ever did from their own cricket body during their entire career. The credit goes to India and Indian players for making cricket one of the favourite games in the world. Most countries want India to play on their home ground to milk big-ticket sponsors. Logically, the absence of Pakistan from the field for a few years will not only make cricket safer but also cleaner. Players entering the ground need not fear suicide attacks while playing against Pakistan, whose international ratings are slipping faster than its
It is surprising that the BCCI is unwilling to take a hard stand on playing Pakistan. After the Pulwama massacre, it did not name Pakistan when it approached ICC with a request to consider banning a nation which allows terror to grow on its territory. The business and broadcasting lobby has traditionally favoured Pakistan in sports, commerce and even entertainment. Even more surprising is the tone of two celebrated former Indian captains, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, who say it is better to play Pakistan and defeat it in the World Cup than boycott it. But their colleagues demand aggressively that Pakistan should be taught a lesson. Since a short-term war or a surgical strike may not be possible immediately, strike the enemy where it hurts. Kill Pak sports by starving and robbing it of fame and name. Pakistan is already known as a failed state on the verge of collapse. Any psychological isolation of its players will critically demoralise and paralyse its society. Let them while away their time flinging cricket balls at each other. India should prepare to strike in a manner that would destroy the very idea of ‘Naya’ Pakistan.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla