How Indian governments have used cricket as diplomatic tool to foster relations with foreign countries

Finally, after weeks of wrangling, there is something that will see the two warring dispensations of the Board of Control for Cricket in India be on the same side.

The elected administrators, disappointed, hurt and upset by a series of decisions, will have no reason to point fingers at the Committee of Administrators-backed employees for going along with Government suggestion to offer cricketing support to other Commonwealth countries.

With a couple of BCCI employees appearing to have agreed to Government’s suggestion to let teams from the Commonwealth utilise India’s cricket facilities, no toes may have been stepped upon. On the contrary, it would appear that dispensation controlling the administrative reins in BCCI took the idea like a duck to water.

Representative photo. Getty Images

Representative photo. Getty Images

It will be interesting, however, in the current scenario to see how the State Associations respond to any missive from the BCCI employees. The stand-off between the elected officials and the Committee of Administrators-backed BCCI’s top employee has taken many ugly turns. And this could add another dimension.

It is possible that the BCCI employees, entrusted with the day-to-day management, have been told by the two-member CoA that they could go ahead and ink an MoU with Government. For, BCCI that will gain more from the deal that than other Commonwealth nations.

So, this could be one area that the troubled dispensation within BCCI may not want to differ with the CoA-backed managers. It is a win-win situation for everyone — or so it seems. The larger question, therefore, will be if any of the Commonwealth nations, who are not already playing cricket at the highest level, will bite.

For all that, it is not surprising that Government has thought of using cricket to extend a friendly hand to other nations. Nor should it be surprising that sport has come to be used as a diplomatic tool.

From the time the Olympic Games was politicised in 1936 — the terror attack in in Munich in 1972, the boycotts by blocs of nations in 1976, 1980 and 1984 — it was clear that big ticket sport would become an important platform for Governments and organisations to make political statements.

The isolation of South Africa from the world of sport for more than two decades owing its apartheid policies is but another example of how nations could come together to influence politics within a country. A whole generation of its talented sportspersons were left to rue missed opportunities.

Closer home, successive Governments have not shied away from using sports — and more specifically cricket — to convey political messages. The awareness that cricket can contribute significantly to the economy has been part of many political decisions, whether it is to permit a bilateral series or not.

It is not without reason that India has not played a Test match against Pakistan since 2007. Come to think of it, India has not hosted Pakistan in a one-day international series since 2013. And, it has not played in a bilateral limited-over series hosted by Pakistan since 2006.

We were initiated to cricket diplomacy — an adaptation of Ping Pong Diplomacy of the Chinese — when Pakistan President Gen Zia Ul Haq visited Jaipur during a Test match in 1987.  The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee allowed the resumption of cricket ties by letting the Indian team travel to Pakistan in 2004.

His successor Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final 2011 in Mohali. We have not heard much of cricket being used as a Confidence Building Measure in the recent times, even as Pakistan’s cricket officials keep waving an MoU at BCCI.

Having said that, if the Ministry of External Affairs’ plan bears fruit now, it will not be the first time that India would be helping cricket teams from other nations. Most recently, a team from strife-torn Afghanistan used the Greater Noida Stadium as its base, having signed a contract with BCCI and Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association.

Earlier, BCCI would let Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known, play first-class games with Madras as Tamil Nadu state was called. The MJ Gopalan Trophy matches played no mean role in the evolution of the cricket team from the Emerald Isle, even if only the greybeards will remember that such a match was played every year.

Why, India provided Guyana substantial assistance to build the Providence Stadium ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007. This time the idea may be to draw a lot of Commonwealth nations, given that cricket is perhaps the third most important aspect after English language and common law binding the Commonwealth.

It is not as if it is only India that comes up with the idea of using cricket to win friends in CHOGM. Back in 1991, the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif played in a cricketathon with British Prime Minister John Major, Australian prime Minister Bob Hawke and Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley in Harare.

It comes as no surprise that the Ministry of External Affairs has started background work to make the most of Prime Minister’s participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at the iconic Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Palace and Windsor Castle in Britain.

It remains to be seen which of the Commonwealth nations sees value in what a great offer from a country where cricket has come to occupy large collective mind space and where facilities have improved leaps and bounds post liberalisation in the early 1990s. But, for the moment, BCCI — in all its shades and hues — will be delighted.

Updated Date: March 28, 2018 17:26:47 IST

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