Using sports and other forms of interactions to bring people of two countries closer or to make a political statement is not a novel concept in today’s world .
A recent example of this was seen when New Zealand, hours before the match to be held in Rawalpindi, refused to step on the pitch and announced that they will return to their home country as they feared potential safety threats.
This was the case presented by them to the worldwide media. But those who know the world of politics from a closer angle says that it was a pure case of Cricket Diplomacy.
Cricket Diplomacy in simpler terms is the art of using the game of cricket as a political tool to enhance or worsen the diplomatic relations between two cricket playing nations. It is one of the most effective way of either establishing good relations or peace between two countries.
Cricket Diplomacy has two primary advantages. The first benefit is that it may be utilized as an icebreaker when two opposing leaderships are unable to communicate with one another.
The second reason is that when two opposed groups meet, the atmosphere of conversation improves because they have a better knowledge of each other, and inter-state interactions are heavily influenced by interpersonal relationships.
One example that is the most relevant to the people belonging to the Indo-Pak region is the cricket diplomacy exercised between the nations of Pakistan and India.
Cricket finesse holds a unique position in the relationship between Pakistan and India. Following General Zia’s visit, General Pervez Musharraf paid a visit to India under the guise of watching a cricket match, which resulted in more discussion and improved cordial relations between the two neighbouring countries.
Then the semi-final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup has seen to have improved ties between India and Pakistan following the polarizing 2008 Mumbai attacks. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, took advantage of the opportunity to welcome his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and invite him to watch the match with him in Mohali. Gilani agreed to watch the match with Singh after accepting the invitation.
Mostly, Cricket diplomacy is used to better relations between two countries, but in the case of New Zealand and Pakistan, it was used to worsen the diplomatic relations.
According to seasoned journalists and expert analysis, it was India’s influence that led to such a drastic step by the New Zealand cricket board. The reason why India has such a lasting impact on the Kiwis is that most of these players participate in IPL against hefty amounts.
Following New Zealand’s exit, England also announced that they will also not visit Pakistan for their upcoming T20 series.
This is nothing but an attempt to isolate Pakistan on the international front and break their bilateral ties.
The PCB said it tried its best to convince the Kiwis, but “cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world are disappointed by this last-minute withdrawal (of New Zealand).”
Pakistan’s history with Cricket Diplomacy
After the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, Pakistan became a no-go zone for foreign cricket teams for almost a decade. The national team had to play its home games in the United Arab Emirates.
The country struggled for 10 years to bring back the game on home soil. International teams resumed touring Pakistan in 2019, with the Sri Lankan team making a much-heralded return in December of that year. That was followed up by a visit from the Bangladesh cricket squad in February 2020, before COVID-19 put an end to most international sports travel.
Over the years, cricket has been a constant victim of the India-Pakistan relationship.
While cricket diplomacy had the potential to alleviate tensions between the two countries, it has now been reduced to a method of maintaining strife and politics off the field.
While tensions between the nuclear powers of South Asia are at an all-time high, the upheaval on and off the sports field is evident. In light of the increasing tensions, India has refused two Pakistani shooters permits to compete in a global event.
In response, India has been reprimanded by the International Olympic Council for not following the policy of non-discrimination, further suspending India’s bid to host Olympic events. In the case of cricket as well, the noticeable presence of political issues has grown.