Posted on 31-01-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

Ever since the notorious Bodyline series in 1932-33 caused a diplomatic incident between England and Australia, politics has rarely stayed away from the game.  In stark contrast to many other team sports, international cricket has generally been played at the national level with various domestic leagues within cricket playing countries.  While some like English county cricket occasionally brought in a few foreign players, domestic cricket as the name suggests generally consisted of teams stocked with local lads.

Until the formation of the Indian Premier League two years ago, cricket did not have a private league (and even this one was started by the Indian cricket board with private team owners) akin to the various soccer, baseball, basketball and ice hockey leagues around the world.    The new IPL also had to reach an accommodation with various national cricket boards to make sure that players would be available for international tournaments.  A very different setup than that which exists in the United States where the MLB and NHL seriously consider not making their baseball and hockey players available for the Olympics.

But these controversies pale before the brouhaha sweeping the subcontinent today.  It started when the latest IPL player auction failed to select a single player from World Twenty20 champion Pakistan.  See link.  This promptly brought tit for tat exchanges between the Pakistani and Indian governments.  Pakistan alleging that this was orchestrated by an Indian government not serious about peace with Pakistan and the Indian government retorting that they had placed no restrictions on the operations of the private league Pakistan should look to themselves as to why the snub occurred.  The Pakistani media has resorted to its typical bout of conspiracy theories involving the Indian spy agency RAW, the local mafia and hard right nationalist politicians.  See link.  Stung by the snub, Pakistan has revoked future participation by its players in the IPL.  See link.

I think Occam’s razor rather than any deep conspiracy to humiliate Pakistan probably provides the likeliest explanation.  Emotions in India still run high from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the half-hearted Pakistani attempts to suppress the terror groups Pakistan spawned. The 2009 IPL season was played in South Africa due to concerns for player security (not helped by the attack on the Sri Lankan team visiting Pakistan).  It is likely that the IPL owners simply did not want to deal with the security hassles involved with Pakistani players.

Then there is the issue of local xenophobes disrupting play.  Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has already lashed out at film actor Shah Rukh Khan (the owner of an IPL team) for suggesting that he would have signed a Pakistani player.  See link.  While purists can hope for the old Olympic ideal of suspending hostilities during a major athletic event, the reality never lives up to the ideal.  Right wing nuts like the Shiv Sena have been disrupting Indian-Pakistani cricket matches scheduled to be played in India for the past 20 years.

It is hard not to sympathize with IPL owners for wanting to avoid this headaches.  It is not the only one they have had to deal with.  Thackeray has also turned his fire on the Australian cricketers as scapegoats for the rash of attacks on Indian students in Australia in the past year.  Now the Australians are considering skipping the lucre offered by the IPL.  See link.  A group in the Telangana region agitating for statehood within the Indian union is promising to disrupt local matches as this would distract from their pet cause.  See link.

While Pakistan sulks and opportunists and xenophobes bask in the sun, the toxic mix of nationalism, xenophobia and idiocy threaten to deny cricket fans an entertaining sports spectacle.

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