THE recent refusal of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to play this year’s Asia Cup in Pakistan has yet again exposed our neighbour’s questionable penchant for mixing politics and sports. The BCCI has only agreed to participate in the biennial event if the latter is moved to a neutral venue, otherwise it has threatened a boycott. India’s repeated refusal to tour Pakistan or even play the team at neutral venues has led to a virtual suspension of bilateral cricket ties since 2008. Hardly any event in world cricket generates as much excitement or viewership as a Pakistan-India match. While Pakistan has, time and again, expressed its willingness to tour India for scheduled matches and has successfully employed cricket diplomacy to break the ice with other cricket-playing countries, India’s absurd approach to sports has thwarted such attempts, thus depriving millions of fans of some very exciting contests.

The Asia Cup, in particular, has fallen prey to India’s obstinacy. It was as far back as 1993 that the Asia Cup had to be cancelled due to rising Pakistan-India tensions while the fate of several tournaments hung in the balance until such time that India managed to enforce its conditions for participation. In 2018, too, the Asian Cricket Council was forced to move the Asia Cup out of India because of the political tensions between the two arch-rivals, and it eventually had to be played in the UAE. The kind of clout that India has wielded in world cricket over the past decade or so is no secret. However, it is, indeed, a challenging task for India to alter things in its favour in mega events such as the World Cup that involves almost all the leading cricketing nations. So, India and the BCCI find it more convenient to browbeat the ACC, the main organiser of the Asia Cup. Wasim Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s chief executive, has warned that if India does not agree to play the Asia Cup in Pakistan this year, the team may boycott next year’s T20 World Cup scheduled to take place in India. This response should be reconsidered as India’s unflattering example of mixing sports and politics needs to be shunned. Instead, the ACC — and the International Cricket Council where the larger picture is concerned — should show more spine and put pressure on India to stop putting politics in the way of a game of cricket.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2020

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