Drawing the line: What’s happening with sports after Pulwama, explained

India and Pakistan’s exceedingly strained relations have once again impinged on cultural exchanges and sporting relations between the two nations, after last week’s Pulwama terror attack.

India drew out economic and diplomatic sanctions against its neighbour immediately after Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the suicide blast on February 14, which killed nearly 40 CRPF jawans.

Caving to Twitteratis’ subsequent demands for a halt on any engagement with Pakistani actors and artists, the All India Cine Workers Association (AICWA) announced a blanket ban last week on all forms of collaboration.

However, then came a nationwide protest for boycotting the India-Pakistan clash in the ICC World Cup 2019, scheduled on June 16 at the Old Trafford. 

IPL chairman speaks out

On Monday, just months before the tournament begins, IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla spoke about the possibility of a blanket ban on bilateral cricket ties between India and Pakistan until they get government’s nod.

Shukla, however, acknowledged the power of sports in mending strained relations and admitted that cricket surpasses political disputes. He told reporters on Monday, “Sports should be above all these things; but if somebody is sponsoring terrorism, obviously it will affect sports also.”

What BCCI plans to do

His statements make it abundantly clear that India won’t shy away from announcing a complete a ban on cricketing ties as a way of turning up international pressure on Pakistan for harbouring and protecting proscribed terrorist entities.

The two countries have not played bilateral cricket since Pakistan’s tour of India for a short limited-overs series in 2012-13. The arch-rivals face-off only at tournaments by the International Cricket Council (ICC) or the Asian Cricket Council.

Times Now further reported that the Committee of Administrators and the BCCI may appeal to the global body to ban the Pakistan cricket team from the impending World Cup in England and Wales. The Indian cricketing bodies will meet on Friday to seek advice from the Home Ministry, Sports Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs in drawing a conclusion on India’s cricketing ties with Pakistan.

“We will discuss all possible options tomorrow and do what is best for the country,” Diana Edulji told PTI. 

The ICC, which the World Cup, could not be reached for an official comment; however, a BCCI board official claimed the ICC is likely to reject the appeal. “There is absolutely no constitutional or contractual way this could happen. The ICC constitution allows members the right to participate in its events as long as qualified,” he said.

Another BCCI source revealed that India is unlikely to find support if ICC puts forward the letter for a vote by the board members. “We no longer enjoy a majority on the ICC board. If this goes for floor Test we are certain to lose,” he said. “Not only that, serious doubts will emerge on our chances to host 2021 Champions Trophy and 2023 World Cup.”

Indian cricketers, former and present, respond

Cricketing veteran Sunil Gavaskar also wrote on Thursday that India will be the ones to lose out if they concede their World Cup match to Pakistan in Manchester. Instead, Gavaskar said India should play Pakistan and beat them.

Meanwhile, former cricketer Chetan Chauhan, speaking to Aaj Tak, supported the hardline view that BCCI should use its influence to keep Pakistan out of the World Cup. Former players Harbhajan Singh and Sourav Ganguly, and present ones Yuzvendra Chahal and Mohammed Shami, too, have called for stricter action against Pakistan, without explicitly suggesting a ban on cricketing ties.

PCB responds to these developments

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said it will address the “regrettable” removal of pictures of its former players, including PM Imran Khan, from the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai. The Punjab Cricket Association also removed photographs of Pakistani cricketers from various points inside the Mohali stadium in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack.

In a statement issued late Sunday night, managing director of PCB, Wasim Khan, said sports has always played a key role in diffusing political tension. “…we have always believed and that sports and politics should be kept separate. History tells us that sports, particularly cricket, has always played a key role in building bridges between people and countries,” his statement added.

Former Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani had said the same when a complete ban on of Pakistani players in the IPL was announced after 26/11 in 2008. The ban was enforced strictly; so much so that 10 editions later, no Pakistan player is considered in the auction.

PCB also faced international ostracism over Pakistan’s alleged sponsoring of terror after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009; 12 gunmen had fired on a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers, part of a larger convoy, near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, leaving six players wounded.

Other sports hit too

While the fate of Indo-Pak cricketing ties is still up for debate, Pulwama attack has already claimed its first casualty in sports—two Pakistani shooters were denied visas for the ISSF World Cup in Delhi from February 20 to 28.

A three-member Pakistan contingent, including 25m rapid fire pistol shooters Muhammad Khalil Akhtar and Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, and coach Razi can no longer travel despite an NOC from the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF).

Following this, Pakistan has written to ISSF, urging it to withdraw the quota spots on offer for Tokyo Olympics 2020. “They are requesting not to distribute quota places in Delhi and do it at the next World Cup in Beijing instead. It is the authority of the IOC now,” ISSF general secretary Alexander Ratner was reported as saying by The Indian Express.

The link between politics and pitch

Sports has become a mode of venting political angst against historical or territorial rivals of late. Displays of regional pride and protest were woven into the very fabric of FIFA World Cup 2018—from Swiss footballers
Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka’s controversial Albanian eagle goal celebrations against Serbia, to Pussy Riot invading the field to protest Russian dictatorship at the World Cup final. US footwear giant Nike had to cancel its contract to supply gear to the Iranian football team, after a crucial nuclear deal with the Trump administration fell through.

In the case of India and Pakistan’s cricketing ties, the world has witnessed one of the most bittersweet, intense, and passionate rivalries on the field; but never without political and jingoistic undertones.

Whenever these two nations collide, passion and patriotism run high, making it one of the most riveting affairs in international cricket. There was a time when cricket offered both countries a welcome relief from tensions during border stand-offs and wars. But with the worsening of relations, politics was bound to perception on and off the field.

Former Pakistani pacer Shoaib Akhtar, appearing in a televised interview on Wednesday, opined, “Our [cricketers’] forte is to talk about cricket and not about the political scene. When such things happen, try to create bridges as a cricketer. It is very important as players to talk about things that bring unity rather than antagonising the situation.”

In an era where we condemn the separation of the artist from their art, can we expect sports to keep away from politics? At the same time, can we really claim such boycotts and blanket bans yield the desired results?

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Indo-PakPulwama attackSports