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KARACHI: Cricket is one sport that is virtually played the entire year in the country, particularly in Karachi, even when there are no national tournaments staged under the umbrella of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The commercial capital of Pakistan has seen Ramazan cricket growing in popularity and stature by leaps and bounds, judging by the flux of competitions that are organised during the holy month. But it seems the PCB now is hell-bent on disrupting the festival cricket, as it is generally referred to, by forcing the organisers to pay a hefty fee to get a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the board.

This demand from the game’s governing body in the country is quite preposterous and uncalled for. There are several events which have become a symbol of recognition as far as Ramazan festival cricket is concerned. Before the advent of the holy month, the organisers apply for the NOC from the PCB and usually get the approval without any objections raised.

But now it seems some vested interests in the PCB have embarked upon a drive that could ultimately spell doom for cricket in Ramazan, with only those having adequate resources to meet the unfair demand would be able to stage the tournament.

And one of them — the Naya Nazimabad Ramazan Cup organisers — have already been issued a provisional NOC so that their event goes ahead as planned from Monday night at the Lawai Cricket Stadium. It has come about only after meeting the PCB request of paying up a cool sum which is supposed to be paid to organise a televised competition.

A PCB tournament evaluation committee order on May 11 to Ahmer Ali Rizvi, the representative of Naya Nazimabad, says: “The Tournament Evaluation Committee re-examined your application and evaluated the same in detail in accordance with the Pakistan Cricket Board’s Rules for Private Cricket Events 2012. It is emphasised that the instant order is being made in light of the factors/circumstances detailed in Article 7 of the Rules.

“In light of the above, you are hereby issued a ‘Provisional NOC’ to conduct the Naya Nazimabad Ramazan Cup 2018 at Lawai Stadium, subject to a payment of a Sanctioning Fee through a Pay Order/Bank Draft in favour of the ‘Pakistan Cricket Board’ amounting to PKR1500000 (1.5 million), subject to the deduction of all applicable taxes, for televised tournament.”

Karachi Gymkhana, who have the distinction of being among the pioneers of Ramazan cricket, are now on the cusp of staging the 33rd edition of the popular Ramazan Cricket Festival from the first day of the holy month at the KG Ground, a venue which played a key role in earning Pakistan its Test status after the national side defeated the MCC here in December 1951.

The prestigious and the oldest of Ramazan competitions hold little value for the PCB which is only focussing to get the extra bucks from the organisers. As a result, the Karachi Gymkhana are now desperate to acquire the NOC, having reportedly paid Rs 500,000 for this non-televised event to the cricket board.

However, in order to minimise their losses in view of this new PCB clause, the Karachi Gymkhana organisers seek an additional amount of Rs 25,000 from each of the competing teams, with every side having already paid up Rs125,000 as entry fee.

The fate of other renowned Ramazan events still hangs in the balance. Among them are the Corporate Cup, which is the brainchild of former Pakistan captain Moin Khan, the Aga Khan Ramazan Cricket Festival and Dr S.M.A. Shah Trophy, a competition which was founded by eminent orthopaedic surgeon Syed Mohammad Ali Shah who passed away in February 2013.

Dr Junaid Ali Shah, son of Dr Shah, during a media briefing at the Karachi Press Club, was vocal in his criticism of the controversial PCB move, while clearly stating that it is high time to drag the sports out of the clutches of politicians and armed forces personnel.

“Not only cricket, other sports are suffering [for long] at the hands of the political figures, bureaucrats and the armed forces personnel. Time has come to raise our voice against this gross injustice. What PCB has resorted to do is totally unwarranted,” Dr Junaid told reporters. “Unless there are concrete measures put in place, things will remain as they are now. We must weed out those with vested interests and ensure sports are free of politics. In other words steps should be taken to depoliticize all sporting institutions.”

Dr Junaid further lambasted the PCB by saying it is not a matter of money which is at stake now. “What is at stake right now is the future of Ramazan cricket in Karachi. Barring a handful of [well-off] organisers, it is a death-knell for others who organise tournament on a small scale during Ramazan. Cricketers who compete will also be financially hit by this decision of the PCB to charge such a big amount.”

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2018