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Cricket or combat?

Updated March 13, 2019

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IT was the wrong call for the International Cricket Council to make. On Monday, the ICC’s spokesperson revealed that it had granted the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s request to allow Indian cricketers to wear army camouflage-style caps during a recent ODI, a stunt that sparked controversy over the weekend as Pakistani government and cricket officials rightly criticised this blatant politicisation of the game.

The ICC explicitly prohibits any form of attire that conveys messages “political, religious or racial” in nature.

To claim that this was merely a “fundraising drive and in memory of” the Indian-occupying troops killed in Pulwama, as Indian skipper Virat Kohli and the ICC have stated, is a rather clumsy smokescreen, and extremely irresponsible given the silly season of war-mongering hysteria in India against Pakistan at this time. But no matter the extent of national fervour, a cricket field is not a battlefield.

That the ICC authorised this spectacle, in clear violation of its own rules, when it has previously reprimanded cricketers for far more minor dress code violations, as well as shown leniency towards other violations by Indian players (recall ‘Monkeygate’) in general, is indicative of India’s ever-growing influence over the world of cricket. It is an ingress that has led to an imbalance in how the ICC arbitrates in such issues.

If it is to maintain any credibility as an international governing body, it must formally reassess this decision and reassert the primacy of its code of conduct. Moreover, this moment also demands that Indian athletes and artists consider the broader implications of adopting the rhetoric of ultra-nationalism and the aesthetics of warfare.

Such personalities have always enjoyed immense power to determine public opinion, an influence which should ostensibly be used to advocate for peace by building bridges rather than burning them down.

And while that sometimes justifies rules against politicising sports being broken in favour of taking a conscientious stand, it takes no moral courage to don the cap of jingoism and cosy up to power.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2019