In a region marked by a long history of political tensions and conflicts, due to cross border terrorism by Pakistan, the invitation by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to our neighbour’s cricket team for a series in India sparked controversy and divided opinions.
Some opposed the move, arguing that cricket relations between India and Pakistan should not be encouraged due to persistent geopolitical disputes and conflicts that included targeted killings of non-Muslims in the Kashmir Valley and unabated cross-border firing.
The invitation was deemed to be insulting to the recent security personnel who were martyred in the line of duty to counter Pakistan’s terrorism.
The tension between India and Pakistan has lasted several decades, particularly after the Pulwama suicide bombing. In this context, some Indians view promoting cricket ties with Pakistan as inappropriate, fearing trivialisation of the deaths of Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Ashish Dhonchak of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, and Deputy Superintendent of J&K Police Humayun Bhat, who were killed just a month ago in a gunfight with terrorists in Kokernag district.
However, since the Indian cricket team needs its training to maintain its fitness and ready for the challenges international cricket presents, what the BCCI can do is play with Pakistan only in the World Championships since that’s necessary for the Indian team to excel and earn laurels for the nation. What they should not do is hold any bilateral series with Pakistan, due to the continued sponsorship of cross border terrorism.
Cricket diplomacy is not a new concept. History has shown that cricket matches between hostile countries have been instrumental in easing diplomatic tensions. These matches serve as a platform for friendly competition, and they provide an opportunity for individuals from historically unfriendly nations to come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. The fervour and excitement surrounding these contests generate conversations that extend beyond the boundaries of the cricket field.
However, the decision to promote cricket relations between India and Pakistan should not be taken lightly. It should examine the broader context of diplomatic relations, public opinion, and commercial interests. The Indian government, the BCCI, and other relevant authorities must assess the sensibilities of the public and respect the families of the brave souls who laid down their lives for the nation.
Cricket diplomacy cannot resolve long-standing political issues. While the concerns about normalising relations with Pakistan are valid, it is essential to recognize that a state which has been waging war since its inception cannot be considered a good neighbour or an ally.
Cricket is India’s favourite pastime. The Indian Premier League matches are more popular than First Class or List-A cricket. We are already hosting the Afghan cricket team and ensuring their cricket team receives full benefits of coaching, training, and playing facilities. It is time to consider cricket as a sport and not as a diplomatic, or political strategy to win over a permanently hostile neighbour.