Contrary to the customary jingoism, in the ongoing T20I Asia Cup, we got to see a measured build up and composed pre-match shows on the India-Pakistan duel.
by Bilal Ahsan Dar
Nothing in the world unites people from different backgrounds of religion, creed, colour, caste or language the way sports do. Sport is a connective tissue that binds people together both across and within societies.
Nelson Mandela succinctly summed it up: “Sport has the power to change the world; it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair”.
On the other hand, it also has the vulnerability of getting exploited as a catalyst for hatred. Sport, as George Orwell wrote, is war minus the shooting. And when the contest is between India and Pakistan, and the sport is cricket, Orwell isn’t off the mark.
The unifying power of sport is visible when people, regardless of any beliefs, fill the stadiums to cheer for their favorite team and players, or in the fields where people together play for pleasure and exercise.
It was visible when in the opening ceremony of 23rd Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang , South Korea, the athletes from North and south Korea marched together behind a unified Korean flag, Also, when India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi had a successful partnership for many years, despite their nations embroiled in a never-ending conflict.
But we have witnessed in recent times how India-Pakistan clashes are used to provoke hatred and tension and also as a tool to jack up TRP’s by TV channels.
For reasons that have got nothing to do with the game itself, India and Pakistan get to play each other only in multi-team tournaments, which lends these matches more hype these days and an opportune release for the pent up emotions. Even former players get involved in ugly verbal spats on live TV shows. Anchors on TV channels spewing venom to generate TRPs and also to cater to the demands of certain political parties.
Just before the India-Pakistan clash in the ongoing Asia Cup, we saw policein the UT of J&K issue advisories, telling people to keep their emotions to themselves, failing which sedition charges could be invoked. Student associations from Kashmir also asked Kashmiris studying across India to refrain from giving vent to their emotions in public or on social media, which earlier led to legal actions against several Kashmiri students.
Though there is a long history of people, politicians and the media exploiting the rivalry for their vested interests, but this time around, in the ongoing Asia Cup, it’s mostly the heartwarming gestures from both the sides that have been the highlight. These lovely scenes underscored the essence of the sport: love, peace, harmony, unity and brotherhood.
This drastic change comes as a surprise to many. While some people argue that after India lost the Champions Trophy final and the T20 World Cup match to Pakistan, many former players and TV anchors had to face serious embarrassment and eat their own words. This time around, they acted in a saner manner knowing that the Pakistani players are capable enough to beat the mighty Indian side.
Many are also of the opinion that this generation of the players is not interested to go into the war of words in pre-match shows and resort to overhype, which actually harm their game rather than bringing in any benefit.
On the other side of the border, the buildup to the mega clash was also measured and not overboard.
Whatever the reason for this drastic departure, it’s a great feeling that good sense has prevailed and a sport is being treated the way it should be. For the moment, peace and love has won, which is the message that every sport carries. The Indo-Pak game has served to bind the people this time this time around rather than dividing them.
Perhaps, the prelude to this pleasant change was Babar Azam’s tweet. “This too shall pass, stay strong,” Babar tweeted, encouraging the Indian great Virat Kohli’s who had been struggling with his form for some time. The tweet from the Pakistani skipper came at a time when many prominent Indians had started questioning Kohli’s place in the Indian team. The tweet found great traction across India and was seen as a harbinger of peace and friendship between the two sparring nations. At least, as far as the game of cricket is concerned.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) released videos from the pre-match sessions at the venue showing players from the two countries greeting each other with warmth, hugs and exchanging pleasantries.
Several Indian players were seen walking up to injured Shaheen Afridi to extend their support after the fast bowler was ruled out of the Asia cup due to a knee injury.
The visuals reflected the respect and the friendship the players of the two countries enjoy off the field, and it played a big role in eschewing the tension that is generally seen when the archrivals meet on the field.
Fans from both the countries also exhibited heartwarming gestures that included posing for the cameras with flags of both the nations. It was also a huge statement not seen before in recent times..
In some epic gestures, even players were seen posing with their fans from their rival country. Virat Kohli was spotted with a Pakistani fangirl in a selfie. Rohit Sharma could be seen meeting his Pakistani fans and signing autographs and not just this, he was seen hugging a Pakistani fan during a training session. The video was viral on the social media and winning the hearts of many. When a few Indians warmed up to fast bowler Hassan Ali, he smilingly said ‘I love india’, before posing for a selfie with one of them.
Overall, the atmosphere so far around the tournament has been heart-touching. Once again proving that sports cam improve relationships and build bridges. There is a noble sentiment attached to this sport which has the power to break the impasse and get the countries not just talking but working together.
Sport does not have a language but it doesn’t need words to unite people. It has the power to teach the lessons that people may not learn in colleges and universities. It has the power to make India and Pakistan players shake hands, and hug each other, which the diplomats and politicians of the two countries rarely do.
It can unite people within a fractured society and across the borders as well. It unites a Hindu and a Muslim to cheer for their favorite team and player. It unites people across social strata to sit together in a stadium to watch the game. It unites an Indian and a Pakistani to join in appreciation of Virat Kohli and Babar Azam and praise the efforts of Hardik Pandya and Naseem Shah.
Cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan has a checkered history. But it is still possible to use it as an icebreaker in the extremely tense times that we live in.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.