Last week in Ranchi, the Indian cricket team, with the full blessings of the country’s cricket board, made a blatant, public display of jingoism by wearing camouflage caps in their One-day International against Australia.
Virat Kohli and his men were apparently wearing the army caps to show their support for the Indian military, currently trying to impose war on neighbouring Pakistan.
The move was supposed to be a symbolic show of India’s military might. It backfired, both on and off the field. In the match, the Indians were thrashed by Australia. Off the field, it drew tough criticism from neutral analysts who slammed the Indian cricket board (BCCI) for the distasteful gesture. More seriously, it was apparent that the Indians had violated the dress code of the International Cricket Council (ICC) by wearing the army caps.
The ICC code says: “Players and team officials shall not be permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey messages through arm bands or other items affixed to clothing or equipment (‘Personal Messages’) unless approved in advance by both the player or team official’s, Board and the ICC Cricket Operations Department. Approval shall not be granted for messages which relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes. The ICC shall have the final say in determining whether any such message is approved. For the avoidance of doubt, where a message is approved by the player or team official’s Board but subsequently disapproved by the ICC’s Cricket Operations Department, the player or team official shall not be permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey such message in International Matches.”
General Syed Arif Hassan, President of the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), believes that such inappropriate gestures will further isolate India in the sporting world.
“I must say that gestures like wearing an army cap in a cricket match are highly inappropriate,” General Arif told ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview. “It’s also an inappropriate gesture because of the poor timing,” he added referring to border tensions between Pakistan and India.
The camo cap episode is just another of the many inappropriate moves made by Indian sports officials in recent times. For years, the BCCI has been trying to isolate Pakistan in the cricket world. In recent times, India has refused to give visas to Pakistani sportspersons in a clear bid to keep them away from international events taking place in India.
“The Indians are using sports for other reasons,” says Arif. “It is clear that most of their moves are intended at aggravating matters. Sports should be used for the promotion of peace.”
Instead, the Indians are using it to fan the tensions which flared in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
But it has backfired. The International Olympic Council (IOC) has taken strong note of recent developments and has warned India against steps like refusal of visas for Pakistani sportspersons. Many international sports federations have also followed suit.
The Indians will have to rethink their strategy otherwise their plans to host major international events could be in jeopardy. India is planning to bid for the 2030 Asian Games and more importantly for the 2032 Olympic Games. But the IOC is unlikely to accept the Indian bids unless it receives assurances from the Indian Olympic committee that there will be no discrimination against athletes of any country.
“The IOC has taken a very solid stance and thankfully so,” says General Arif. “Both the IOC and UN charters are aimed at the promotion of peace. There can’t be any compromise on it,” adds the POA chief, who played an active role behind the scenes to help Pakistan thwart India’s plans to isolate it in the world of sports.
Last month, when India refused to issue visas to two Pakistani shooters who had qualified to participate in the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, Arif wrote a letter to the IOC seeking the international body’s intervention. He also spoke to top IOC officials convincing them to take action against India. The IOC acted swiftly by revoking two Olympic quota places (two events in which the Pakistani shooters were to participate) and also suspended talks with India about hosting future international sporting events.
“While dealing with that issue, we came out on a high moral ground,” says Arif. “Our stance was clear. Our shooters had qualified for the World Cup and should have been given visas. The IOC supported us.”
While the IOC has been dealing with India like it would have dealt with any other member nation, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has unfortunately failed to discipline BCCI. Time and again, BCCI has tried to politicise cricket but no action was taken against the Board. Recently, it tried to get Pakistan banned from this summer’s ICC World Cup in England. The move was bound to fail. ICC will have to show India its place. As a Test-playing nation, India occupies a prominent spot in the ICC but so do Pakistan and several other nations. The ICC cannot allow border disputes to spill into the cricket field.
Instead of mixing sports with politics, the Indians should consider sports diplomacy. In the past, we have seen sports helping in building bridges. Back in the 70s, ping pong diplomacy brought the people of China and United States closer. There are countless other examples of how sports helped promote peace and harmony. Indian sports officials should rethink their game plan because they are on the path to self-destruction. By trying to isolate Pakistan, they are isolating themselves.
In the meantime, Pakistani sports officials must continue to counter the ongoing Indian onslaught. In September this year, the Indians are supposed to travel to Pakistan to play a Davis Cup match. Indian tennis officials have already started a campaign to relocate the match citing security reasons. Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) will have to shoot down any such move. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has lifted its restrictions and Pakistan is allowed to host its home Davis Cup ties. The Indians should either come and play in Pakistan or forfeit the match.
Though it is not going to happen, I would love to see an Indo-Pak tennis match on grass in Lahore. It would be perfect. Just thinking about it took me down memory lane. Back in 2006, when Pakistan last travelled to India to play a Davis Cup match, I was there in Mumbai to cover it. Played on a makeshift court at the historic Cricket Club of India, it was an epic encounter that went down to the wire. With the match leveled at 2-2, Indian tennis star Leander Paes used all his experience to edge a spirited Aqeel Khan in a thrilling finale to give India a famous victory. I still remember the crowd cheering for every point scored by Paes. But Aqeel, too, got his share of applause even from Paes. Unfortunately, those were the good old days.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News