The eternal optimist in me believes that nothing can come in the way of sport being the balm that can soothe the surging emotions and, at the same, be the fuel that will drive the intense passion to watch competitive sport in the sub-continent. At the moment, all that is threatened as logic seems to be in severe short supply.
There was so little logic in the manner in which the Indian Premier League franchisees collectively ignored the claims of Pakistan players. There was none when it was suggested that franchisees had made the decision because they had taken their teams’ balance into account. “If a team has one player to buy, will it buy a player of 100 per cent chance of risk? Obviously not!” IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi said.
It did not need him to remind anyone that the eight franchises are but corporates. Yet, even if they are largely business houses, IPL franchisees needed to show greater sensitivity when bidding for – or as in this case, not bidding for – Pakistan players. When it comes to Pakistan, it is always prudent to exercise caution.
And, if the team owners were collectively so concerned about being unable to ensure security of the Pakistani players, they should have impressed upon IPL to not make these players go up for auction. By ignoring every single player from across the border, IPL franchisees conveyed the strong impression that they could invite people home and yet not open the door.
If the franchises had taken a collective decision – as seemed apparent – IPL would have been in a position to inform the Pakistan players and the Pakistan Cricket Board so that the whole thing did not boil down to a fracas, leading to such an emotional response from the peoples in either country.
I am hoping that Pakistan – as a nation – does not see such behaviour as a deliberate snub by India. I have read comments which indicate that emotions have overweighed logic. These include former cricket captains Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas and hockey legend Islahuddin Siddiqui – whose showcase in his Karachi home will have a special place for a bat that was gifted him by Rahul Dravid in 2006.
Zaheer Abbas, for instance, kept asking why the Pakistan players had been left out of the second edition IPL 2009 in South Africa. It seems that he had forgotten that the Government of Pakistan had refused the players permission to take part in the tournament that was to be played in India and was moved — at very short notice – to South Africa. The teams had already been finalised by the time a decision was made to play the tournament in South Africa because of the General Elections in India.
My confidence in sport stems from a number of reasons. India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi form an exciting partnership on the tennis courts, spreading the message of sport and peace. Three junior boxers became the first sportsmen from India to visit Pakistan in more than a year while snooker, tennis and squash players from Pakistan have come to India.
More than anything else, I am reminded of a brief but passionate conversation with Abdul Khaliq Khan, a former Pakistan’s volleyball captain who now heads the Pakistan Olympic Association and Pakistan Commonwealth Games Council a few months ago. He said he had backed India on the floor of the Commonwealth Games Federation’s General Assembly because Pakistan saw itself as co-host of the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi.
I am confident Indo-Pakistan sport will overcome this hiccup and ensure that sport remains an important bridge between the peoples of the two nations. It would be unfortunate, if not silly, if all sporting ties were called off. Delightfully, Pakistani authorities have ignored calls to boycott the Hero Honda FIH World Cup hockey championship in Delhi.
Yes, sport has the wonderful chance of being the balm that soothes wounded sentiments.