ICC has a role in maintaining non-political spirit of Cricket

Kashmir Magazine

Hamid Rather

Sports are perceived as separate from politics. No doubt it has always tried to be apolitical, however history is thinly replete with such events where sports was politicised. Starting with Germany, Adolf Hitler used sports as a tool to impose German hegemony on the world. There are numerous events in the history when countries put embargo on certain players from entering their countries on discriminatory grounds. The recent usage of flags tied with aircraft bearing political messages in the ongoing ICC world Cup 2019 Pakistan Vs Afghanistan and India Vs Sri Lanka match at Leeds in England are just additions to make the sports as tools of political propaganda. The usage of military caps by Indian Men's cricket team and Army insignia on gloves by Mahender Singh Dhoni are further extensions in this direction. Sports and politics must be dichotomised and both have different fields where they are played and contested.

Sport and politics may be strange bedfellows but the twain do meet awkwardly at times. Just as the Indian bowlers were gaining a stranglehold over the Sri Lankan batsmen in a World Cup game at Headingley on 6th July, there was a rumble in the skies. The third over was in progress when a small aircraft flew over the ground towing a banner that read “Justice for Kashmir”. As the import of the political message sunk in, a lull ensued before the match continued with its own innate rhythm. Just as the aerial propaganda was being considered a one-off incident, and Sri Lanka struggled following the fall of the fourth wicket, the plane reappeared and did two sorties circling the ground. The 17th over was being bowled and this time the slogan was more strident: “India stop genocide, free Kashmir”.

The International Cricket Council promptly issued a statement: “We are incredibly disappointed this has happened again. We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC men’s cricket World Cup. Throughout the tournament we have worked with local police forces around the country to prevent this type of protest occurring. After the previous incident we were assured by West Yorkshire Police there would not be repeat of this issue, so we are very dissatisfied it has happened again.”

It may be recalled that a similar intrusion through the clouds had happened at the same venue on June 29. Pakistan and Afghanistan were locked in a contest that the former eventually won but the face-off is being remembered more for what happened off the field. There was a scuffle between Pakistani and Afghan fans and incidentally a plane then had flown with the following message: “Justice for Balochistan” and “Help End Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan.” Back then the ICC declared: “We work with local police forces around the country to prevent this type of incident occurring and were assured that given Headingley is under the flight path for the Leeds Bradford Airport it would not be an issue. We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC men’s cricket World Cup and will work with West Yorkshire police to deal with and understand why this has happened and to ensure it does not happen again.”

Obviously, the precautionary measures failed and a tournament known for pure sport has been dragged into an avoidable political game of smoke and mirrors on the periphery. Much later, while Indian openers Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul cruised, the plane returned and the banner read: “Help end mob lynching in India.”

On this matter BCCI has filed written complaint with ICC over security of players. Political sloganeering is strictly prohibited at international sporting events and the instances are a bit of an embarrassment for the International Cricket Council. In the first Semi-Final match between India and New Zealand, several spectators were arrested on the political sloganeering and messages in the stadium. This is a good step in keeping sports apolitical and ICC has a duty as well a role in maintain the non-political spirit of cricket.