Beaver

Why Can’t We Keep Politics Out of Sport

By Sachin Jhangiani

Sunday was a disappointing day to be an Indian cricket fan. Our streak of having never lost a World Cup game against Pakistan, dating back to 1975, was finally broken. Had I been at home, my whole family (including my sister and mother who rarely, if ever, watch cricket), would have gathered around the TV; an India-Pakistan match is not to be missed. It’s a game of rare intensity – similar to El Classico or the North West derby (when United were good). It’s a game in which you ride the emotional highs of Rishabh Pant hitting two one-handed sixes, and the lows of him getting out trying to hit a third one.

The reason for this intensity, like most things in South Asia, comes down to one word: partition. The Partition of British India yielded violence, chaos, riots, and disorder. Families had to move under threat of life, simply because of religion. My grandparents’ generation experienced this and carried this resentment with them. For them, a win against Pakistan was akin to winning a war. My parents’ generation grew up hearing tales of partition and what was lost and lived through the 1971 War over Bangladesh. For them, the games were still intense – duels between Imran Khan and Sunil Gavaskar were the stuff of legend. My generation, having never known war with Pakistan (except for on the cricket pitch of course), tends to have a more relaxed view of the game, or at least as relaxed a view as possible considering the history between the two countries.

What’s interesting though is that behind the enmity and rivalry of the fans, Indian and Pakistani players have always been rather friendly with one another. Having Punjabi as a common language has helped, but mostly it’s been a question of hospitality. The Indians have always taken care of the Pakistani players and vice-versa. It’s sad that politics has disrupted this tradition – no bilateral series has taken place since there were terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008. It’s sad that we have allowed politics to disrupt the cricket matches played between two great teams who always raise their game against each other. Imagine if Real Madrid and Barcelona only played each other in the Champions League? How disappointing would that be?

In one way, it could be argued that this rarity of games between India and Pakistan has made it a tense affair, once again fuelled by nationalism (certainly the two countries’ governments don’t help reduce this). Indeed, Mohammad Shami, the only Muslim player on India’s team, was branded a traitor online after the loss, despite India’s captain, Virat Kohli, stating that the team were simply “outplayed”

Sitting in a pub and watching the game, I was struck by the fact that I’d never watched an India-Pakistan match with Pakistanis. It was a strange, but enjoyable, experience to hear someone else cheer when my team did badly. That’s what sport is all about – your team’s pain is the other team’s pleasure. It doesn’t need politics to up the stakes; they’re already high enough. If ever there was a case to be made for keeping politics out of sport, it is with an India-Pakistan cricket match.

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