With its position as the most powerful country in South Asia, India is one of the nations that have become significant players in international politics. In the modern era, a multipolar international system has emerged. States are now equal competitors instead of the hegemon’s servile subjects. India has consequently grown to be a significant player in international politics, notably as the leading country in South Asia. India today enjoys a prominent position in all spheres, including politics, economics, cyberspace, information technology (IT), and other areas, thanks to its substantial economic growth. The international game of cricket also demonstrates this dominance. Prior to cricket, this influence was evident in politics and economics.
India: Dominating the Game
There are an estimated 2.5 billion individuals that follow cricket worldwide, with the majority of these followers living in the Asian nations of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. For the majority of people in the South Asian region, where it is not just a game but has many sentiments and emotions attached to it, it has always been of great interest. For some people, it truly is a matter of life and death. Thus, cricket occupies an important place in people’s lives.
On the contrary, today, cricket has not remained a gentleman’s game anymore, and a strong intrusion of politics is witnessed in the game.
Whoever has a say in politics and also has access to money is ruling the cricket field. They have the authority to decide all crucial matters pertaining to the game. Clearly, India’s activities fall within this statement. It has gained dominance in the cricket sphere due to its possession of resources. With their natural talent, they have already dominated this field, but now they are also concentrating on other things in addition to their game. It has become one of the biggest revenue generators for the International Cricket Council (ICC). Because of this, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) also has a significant voice within the ICC, and it is safe to state that anything the BCCI says is considered final by the ICC.
Cricket is also of great interest to other South Asian nations, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and its players strive to uphold the pride of their country. In fact, these countries are home to a large number of top athletes who are dominating the scoreboard, such as Babar Azam, Shakib Al Hasan, Muhammad Rizwan, Rashid Khan, and others. This has strengthened the position of these countries despite their being average contributors in economic terms to the ICC.
Pakistan: The Long Journey
With regard to Pakistan in particular, it is clear how it has changed over time from being the best team in the world to a below-average team and then back to a top-tier world-class squad in contemporary times. However, Pakistan’s lone shortcoming was its inability to host games on home soil because of the country’s unstable security situation and heightened perception of terrorism as a threat. Due to this, Pakistan suffered two significant losses: one economic and one in terms of reputation.
Owing to the efforts of higher officials and the government, Pakistan has been able to improve its reputation in the cricketing world initially by hosting Pakistan Super League (PSL) matches on its home grounds and inviting foreign players to Pakistan. In addition, a number of top-tier teams, including those from New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, and South Africa, have recently toured Pakistan, enhancing Pakistan’s standing internationally. Given these circumstances, the ICC has decided to hold the Asia Cup 2023 in Pakistan. Nonetheless, Indian hegemony is also apparent in this regard. A global cricket war is launched between them as the government of India has refused to send its players to Pakistan for the 2023 Asia Cup, which has infuriated the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). The tournament “is likely to be moved out of Pakistan,” according to a statement released on October 18, 2022, by Jay Shah, secretary of the BCCI and president of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). In response, former Chairman PCB Ramiz Raja issued an even harsher statement, warning that “if ICC does not allow Pakistan to host Asia Cup 2023,then there are chances that Pakistan will pull out of the ICC ODI World Cup 2023, which is scheduled in India.”
These statements unequivocally demonstrate that the government is intervening in cricket with politics, despite the interest of players and spectators.
They are working behind closed doors to sow division and hostility while playing the gentleman’s game for political gain. Although the reason given by the BCCI to the ACC is that they have security concerns and their players are not safe in the country, this reasoning is vague as in recent times many countries and foreign players have visited Pakistan and have travelled to many cities within the country without getting harmed. The statements made by different players around the world can serve as evidence for this reality. For example, Moeen Ali, a player for the England Cricket Team, remarked that “Pakistan’s reputation has always been unfair as crimes are present everywhere and security risks are present in every country, but only Pakistan is targeted when it comes to terrorism and threat alerts”.
Cricket: A Diplomatic Tool
The actions of the BCCI in this regard can be seen through a realistic lens. They have interlinked every domain with national interest and thus take decisions that maximize the profit and interest of the state. By taking such action, India will benefit as it will maintain its hegemony in the international and cricket domains. They are exercising their authority because they are aware that their opinions and demands cannot be disproved given their considerable influence in politics and the ICC. A similar case was also observed in the T20 World Cup 2022 during the India-Pakistan match on October 23, 2022. Despite the advent of foolproof technology, no ball was given on Virat Kohli’s call, and the third umpire did not verify it.Cricket should not be used as a tool to foment further animosity in hostile conditions, but as a diplomatic tool to promote political peace.
Cricket diplomacy has occasionally been effective in the past in breaking down barriers, but most of the time it has served as a deceptive calm before the storm.
The game between the two sides isn’t seen as a game between two countries but rather as a contest between Muslims and Hindus.The ICC is biased because it is impossible to turn down India because its cricketers play the most matches and bring in the most revenue. So, whatever the BCCI decides is regarded as the ICC’s final ruling. Another argument is that the ICC is actually the “Indian Cricket Council” and not the “International Cricket Council”. But given that Pakistan’s circumstances have evolved over time, the ICC ought to look into the situation rather than concur with the BCCI. Their security conditions have improved. They are in a position to hold complete tournaments; therefore, by refusing to send the players, India is only setting the stage for conflict. It should take a liberal stance in this matter because fans and players want to see these two teams play more matches, which will ultimately benefit both countries. These tournaments will result in a significant amount of economic activity, and it’s possible that this may pave the way for greater cooperation between the two.
Cricket should be free of political interference from the government. Sports should be played as intended, while political issues should be addressed using political strategies. No domain should interfere with another; otherwise, everyone would suffer damaging consequences. Both parties should consider taking actions that convey a positive message. By engaging in positive measures, there is a possibility that these friendly interactions on the field will lead to friendly relations between the states at the level of government. In order to benefit all sides, impartial decisions should be encouraged.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.