All sport is politics by other means
Is there a danger that the present unbridled mood of nationalism and heightened anti-Pakistan sentiment could end up damaging India’s sporting interests? I fear the answer is yesUpdated: Mar 02, 2019 18:10 IST
Is there a danger that the present unbridled mood of nationalism and heightened anti-Pakistan sentiment could end up damaging India’s sporting interests? To put it colloquially, could we end up cutting our nose to spite our face? I fear the answer is yes.
Let’s start with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to suspend all discussions about hosting future Olympic-related events in India and to ask all sports federations not to hold events in the country or grant hosting rights to India. This was in response to India’s refusal to grant visas to Pakistani participants for an international shooting championship. The IOC says this was “against the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, in particular... non-discrimination... and equal treatment of all participating athletes and sporting delegations”. As far as the IOC is concerned, that’s a very serious charge.
The government’s position is that boycotting Pakistan is far more important than hosting international sporting events. But is it? That’s what the issue turns on.
Already an international billiards event in Bangalore has been called off. Additionally, international events planned for later this year in badminton, chess, golf and hockey are in danger. More importantly, India’s hopes of staging the Youth Olympics in 2026, the Asian Games in 2030 and the Summer Olympics in 2032 are now in doubt. Is this a price worth paying for snubbing Pakistan?
The Indian Olympics Association (IOA) insists it is not. Rajeev Mehta, its secretary general, has said: “It’s a big setback for sports in the country.”
Now, the IOC will only withdraw its sanctions if India provides “clear written guarantees” that there will be no discrimination on the participation of athletes. I can’t see that happening before the elections. It would be a damaging climbdown by the government. Who knows if it will happen after that?
The other issue is about what stand should India take about playing Pakistan in cricket? To begin with, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has formally written to the International Cricket Council (ICC) urging “the cricketing community to sever ties with countries from which terrorism emanates” ie Pakistan. But what are the chances the ICC will agree? It’s very unlikely that major cricketing countries like Australia, England and South Africa will support this demand.
Vinod Rai, the Chairman of the Committee of Administrators, may want to “make it a cricket apartheid for Pakistan” but the undeniable fact is the world does not view Pakistan in 2019 the same way as it viewed South Africa in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
So was it wise for the BCCI to call for severing ties with Pakistan when perhaps no other country agrees? Instead of isolating Pakistan, this could end up isolating India.
Finally, should India play Pakistan in the World Cup? So far we have beaten Pakistan in all the previous World Cups. Now, in 2019, if we refuse to play, I imagine Pakistan will be relieved and delighted and will also get two points without having to fight for them. I don’t see how that benefits India.
If India could play Pakistan at the height of the Kargil War, isn’t it odd to argue that we can’t after Pulwama? Of course, the World Cup is still over three months away and who knows how much further Indo-Pak relations will deteriorate between now and then.
Clausewitz famously said war is politics by other means. I fear we’re about to expand that and add sport is politics by other means.
Karan Thapar is the author of The Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Mar 02, 2019 18:09 IST