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Subcontinental Drift: Queering the Pitch
Ending Indo-Pakistani cricketing ties is a mistake
By APARISIM GHOSH
Web posted at 2:15 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:15 a.m. EDT
The cancellation last week of India's scheduled December cricket tour of
Pakistan was a bad idea for a number of reasons. None bigger than the fact the
ban was imposed by the Indian government.
The proffered excuse -- that Indian players would not be safe in Pakistan -- is
patently hogwash. The cancellation was plainly calculated to please Hindu-
fundamentalist groups that support the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee. In their deep hatred of Pakistan, these groups have long resented
cross-border cricketing ties and have been pressuring Delhi to issue a ban.
Sadly, it looks like they've won.
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I'll spare you the usual bromides about the danger of mixing politics and sport.
In South Asia, that mixture is a fact of life -- and one of the main reasons why
we fare so poorly at sports. But if, as the Hindu hard-liners posit, Pakistan's
funding of Kashmiri separatists is reason enough to cancel the cricket tour,
then surely a ban should have been imposed over a decade ago, when the
insurgency began. Successive Indian governments (including this one) allowed
cricketing ties to continue this far. Why stop now?
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Ironically, cricket is probably the only sport in India that has escaped the
direct control of the government. Heaven knows India's cricket board is not
perfect; indeed, the Central Bureau of Investigation has suggested the body is
rife with corruption. But allowing the government to call the shots would be
akin to saving the lamb from the wolves only to throw it to the lions.
But there's much more at stake here than the future of a sport in South Asia.
For years, subcontinental cricket has been a substitute for diplomacy. Since the
two governments seem unable or unwilling to talk to each other, Indians and
Pakistanis can only communicate through cultural and sporting exchanges. To cut
off even these channels would not just be sad, it would be detrimental to any
future prospects of amity between the neighbors.
The vast majority of cricket fans relish Indo-Pakistani encounters. So do the
players. Over the years, I've quizzed many Indian cricketers about their
experiences playing in Pakistan. Every one has only the fondest memories -- of
organizers going out of their way to make the visiting team happy, throngs of
fans wishing the squad well, and of shopkeepers refusing to accept money from
players. Pakistani cricketers undoubtedly have similar stories to recount.
The most distasteful aspect of the cancelled tour is that it was instigated by
Uma Bharti, the new Indian Sports Minister. To refresh your memory, this
woman was instrumental in rallying hordes of Hindu fanatics to
demolish the Ayodhya mosque in 1992, a seminal event in Indian politics and the
lowest point in Indian secular tradition. That this barefaced bigot should be
given charge of sport, the purest of human endeavor, is a travesty.
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