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Sport sans baggage of politics, a win-win situation

columns Updated: Sep 11, 2010 01:40 IST
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The professional tennis circuit is a world in itself. Here players compete hard, would prefer to die on the court than lose a match, but in the end they realize it is a game they are playing and not fighting a war against each other.

Players from different backgrounds, cultures, nationalities play against each other and once their on-court rivalry is over, share their anguish and joys and some of them forge emotional ties that transcend on-field rivalries.

Here individuals matter more than the countries they represent and if a professional/personal need arises, they forge a bond that cuts across the politico-religious divide between nations.

The classic example of how the sports world, when independent of any influence from governments and federations, functions is that of the India-Pakistan duo of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, who are now being hailed as ambassadors of peace because of their successful run at the US Open. That Qureshi, who hails from Lahore, and Bopanna from Bangalore, have been partnering each other in the doubles circuit for the past few years, has so far been rarely highlighted as it is being done now.

The big-serving Qureshi, like many Pakistani players, has been a regular on the Indian circuit right from his junior days and was at one time the best tennis player in Asia.

Like Bopanna, he too comes from a rich business family and made international headlines by pairing with an Israeli in the international circuit. It speaks of his convictions and a liberal outlook that he did not care about the backlash of a Muslim joining hands with a Jew. Except for a few murmurs from right-wingers in Pakistan, Qureshi was left alone to pursue his career.

When Bopanna and Qureshi were searching for a doubles partner, they fell into each other's arms.

The reasons, apart from professional needs, were obvious. They were culturally more attuned and could understand one another's needs off the court better than say a European would with a player from the sub-continent.

This was not the first time Qureshi was tying up with an Indian. He had also paired up with Leander Paes in a tournament, which had later prompted Paes into saying, "I am one call away from becoming his regular doubles mate."

Now that the Bopanna-Qureshi pair has had a dream run in the US Open, the world wants to know from them what it means for an Indian and a Pakistani to share the same dream and, more importantly, help each other fulfill it. It is a question the two have been answering with sincerity and earnestness that would do two friends proud.

It must be for the first time in the history of the two nations, that the whole of India would not want a Pakistani to lose and vice versa.

What is remarkable in this story is that it has not come about because of any sports diplomacy being used by the two states. It is a result of letting players mix with each other minus any baggage of politics and, in the process, the two have possibly, without a conscious effort, chosen a path, which tells us that sports knows no boundaries. It bridges and not divides.