The Pulwama attack on 14th February 2019, wherein 40 CRPF jawans were killed by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber was claimed to be carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad. It led to escalation of diplomatic tensions between the two countries, and a nationwide protest in India for boycotting the scheduled India-Pakistan clash in the World Cup on June 16 at the Old Trafford. The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) is seeking an international ban on Pakistan Cricket Team from the Indian Cricket Council (ICC) for being a country that harbors terrorism.
Indo-Pak Cricket Equations
Cricket is the most popular sport in both the nations, and an intense rivalry exists between the two nations in this sport. The countries have fought three wars against each other post partition, and the same animosity can be felt on the field. Matches played and cricket tours to the other country have a heavy influence of politics, and India has suspended cricketing ties with Pakistan several times following terrorist attacks or other hostilities. Ties have been severed due to Indo-Pak War 1971, Kargil war, Mumbai attacks 2008. Post the 3 -match ODI series played by Pakistan in India in 2012-13, no bilateral cricket has since been played. The Mumbai attacks also led to the ban of Pakistani cricket players in the Indian Cricket League (IPL). Also, no Test Cricket match has been played in Pakistan since 2009, post an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in test match in Lahore.
The 2011 semi-final played between India and Pakistan at Mohali is an iconic example of the importance given by the two nations to cricket. The match was equated to a war and it experienced the presence of celebrities, diplomats and even the Prime Ministers of both nations. Not only did businesses shut shop, but even governments of several states of both the provinces declared official holidays. Tickets were sold out several days before the match, and screens and TV sets across the country were set up. Some people even died out of shock after Pakistan lost the match. Such is the impact of the sport on both nations.
Even if Pakistan is banned, it would not be the first country to be treated so based on political grounds. South Africa was banned by the ICC for almost two decades, from 1970 to 1991, because of its government’s policy of apartheid. This racist policy led them to play only against the white nations (England, Australia, New Zealand), and field only white players in its cricket team. Thus, many players like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and Kepler Wessels were excluded from the game. Also, upcoming stars like Tony Greig, Allan Lamb and Robin Smith had to contend elsewhere. It was only after the removal of the apartheid policy did ICC reinstated it as a test nation.
BCCI is actively seeking an international ban on Pakistan cricket team despite a recent rejection from the International Cricket Council (ICC). According to BCCI’s Committee of Administrators (CoA) chairman Vinod Rai, the ICC should ban the countries that harbour terrorism, though he did not comment on whether India will boycott Pakistan at the ICC World Cup 2019, saying that it is still months away. He also insisted that ICC has not shot down the proposal yet and that “it is a process which goes slow”.
The call for a need to ban Pakistan from international cricket has been voiced by many people like Union Minister Ravi Prasad, former allrounder and politician Chetan Chauhan among others. While others like Harbhajan Singh have suggested India to boycott facing Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup.
In a recent development, Pakistan has demanded ICC action against the Indian cricket team for wearing camouflage military caps during the third ODI against Australia. The players wore the cap as a mark of respect to the CRPF jawans who lost their lives in the Pulwama terror attack, also donated their match fee for the welfare of the families of the martyrs. Pakistan is chastising the move as an attempt to politicize cricket. While Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi demanded action, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called for a ban on the Indian team by ICC, "And if the Indian team will not be stopped, Pak cricket team should wear black bands to remind The World about Indian atrocities in Kashmir" he said.
Symbolism of political issues in sports is not new, and controversies regarding it date back to the infamous 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute, in which African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem as a mark of defiance to racial oppression and injustice.
The topic continues to be highly subjective and sensitive. Some insist that sports and politics should not be mixed; that a sports ban is not a solution to the problem of terrorism, and that an entire country cannot be punished for a faction’s problems. They believe the role of sport is to promote peace and healthy relations, and not the other way round. Some are also citing the lack of evidence of Pakistan Government in the attack to strengthen their stand. On the other hand, some insist that it will put out a strong statement to the world and put pressure on the concerned countries to fix their problems. Cricket, which is treated like a religion by both the countries, and has always been a bone of contention for both countries, does penetrate the politics of the two countries as well.
What happens to BCCI’s appeal remains to be seen. And the topic itself remains to be highly contentious, and could affect the ties of the two nations and the world of cricket based on its outcome.