Ajitpal-Charlesworth Trophy, a step in the right direction

Australia has proposed that the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 group B match featuring India and the Kookaburras be played as a Friendship Match for the Ajitpal-Charlesworth Trophy. This initiative has come against the backdrop of a string of dastardly attacks on young Indians in Australia.

Set to coincide with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith’s visit to the Indian Capital, the decision to institute a trophy to honour two legends – Ajitpal Singh and Ric Charlesworth – this decision is reminiscent of the ping pong diplomacy route that the United States and China took to achieve a thaw in their relationship back in the 70s.

There have always been calls round the world to keep politics away from sports but world leaders — statesmen and politicians alike – have found it a convenient platform to further diplomatic moves through sport. It is hard not to recall some such instances, not the least being Pakistan President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s trip to Jaipur for a cricket Test match in 1987.

Then in 1996 when Australia and the West Indies withdrew from their World Cup cricket matches in Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan got together to field a joint side in a friendly game against the home side to show the world that it was safe to travel to the tear-drop island in Indian Ocean.

I remember watching the telecast of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 match between India and Pakistan in Centurion Park and the attempt by the two captains, Sourav Ganguly and Waqar Younis, to remind their fans that this was but a game of cricket and not to see it as proxy war as has become the norm.

Back in 2004, India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the cricket team before it left for Pakistan that it was important not only to win at the sport but also to win hearts in Pakistan. The camaraderie that existed on that tour is firmly embedded on the minds of all those privileged to be on that tour, with 8000 Indian fans sitting alongside their Pakistani counterparts.

There is no doubt that sport has the power to facilitate healing of fractured societies. And Australia has taken the initiative to institute a trophy to honour two legends, one the captain of the Indian team that won the World Cup hockey in 1975 and an Australian who was a member of the 1986 side that won the World Cup and has been a successful coach too.

Charlesworth, who is here as Australia coach, saw his team being at the receiving end during its game against England – not just because it lost 2-3 but also because the crowd, steadily building up for India’s match against Pakistan that followed, was lined up against it.  Clearly, the fans were making a gentle statement about the attacks against a number of Indians in Australia.

This piece was written for www.stick2hockey.com