Make no mistake, sport is never above the interest of the country.
Now, it has to be said after it made sense to stay away from the debate being stirred up four months too soon. Leave the making of the decision on whether India must play Pakistan or forfeit the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 game on 16 June to the Government of the day. And leave the timing of the decision closer to the day.
And, India has boycotted important sporting events before, notably the final of the Davis Cup in 1974 when it stayed away in protest against the apartheid policy in vogue in South Africa. More recently, the ICC decided to grant six points to the Pakistan women’s team after India forfeited three bilateral games in 2016.
Yet, it must be said that those who have been asking Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to call for a boycott of the game against Pakistan are merely whipping up passion and inflaming frenzy. They will be well aware that it is the Government that will make the decision closer to the event rather than now. And yet, they are inciting a boycott.
There really is no point in the storm being whipped up now. It nearly worked in getting the Committee of Administrators (CoA), appointed to set the BCCI right by changing its constitution in keeping with the Lodha Committee recommendations and conducting its elections, to consider writing a letter to ICC, asking it to drop Pakistan from the World Cup.
Fortunately, wiser counsel has prevailed.
So, what would India gain by forfeiting the game? Precious little. And, on the contrary, the only tangible outcome of a boycott of that game would be the points that Pakistan gains as a gift from India. Imagine gifting World Cup points to Pakistan. Is that the best outcome of all the anger and outrage in the wake of the terror attack in Pulwama?
There should be no question that India stands to only gain by playing and winning the 16 June match (as their predecessors have done six times in World Cup meetings between the two sides). In what is expected to a rather competitive World Cup tournament, each point counts. This is not some bilateral contest that can be called off.
Come to think of it, given how the decision-making has shifted away from Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — which is in a state of disarray — the ICC could well take the hosting rights of tournaments like the 2023 Cricket World Cup away from India. At a time when India must be gathering international support, it should not risk losing on that front.
On Thursday, India faced the grim situation of losing all 16 quota places on offer for the Tokyo Olympic Games after it did not grant visas to two Pakistani sport shooters and their manager in time for them to reach Delhi for the ISSF World Cup, scheduled to begin on Saturday.
Somewhat fortunately, a team comprising Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Col Rajyavardhan Rathore, Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra and National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh were able to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to withdraw just two quota berths from the 25m rapid fire pistol event in Delhi.
Yet, all their diplomatic skills were not enough to stop the IOC from choosing to suspend all discussions with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India, until clear written guarantees are given to ensure the entry of all participants in such events in full compliance with the rules of the Olympic Charter.
Worse, the IOC Executive Board decided to recommend that the International Federations to neither award to nor hold sports events in India until the guarantees are obtained. The IOC decision let the ISSF World Cup retain its competitive edge, but we must not think that it has been done to please India. It was driven by a need not to hurt 500-odd international athletes assembled in Delhi.
It was on Thursday that a retired Army officer, sipping a healthy juice in a coffee shop after a long run, recounted how the Indian team’s victory over Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup buoyed the morale of the troops in Kargil. There are no prizes for guessing what this retired officer wants of Virat Kohli’s team four months later on 16 June in Old Trafford, Manchester.
These important decisions are not made in in coffee shops with former Army officers for company or TV studios or through online polls. And while Government would be responsive to the mood of the nation, there are more important issues for India to deal with immediately and in the next four months before it finally makes a considered decision on the World Cup match.
Until that happens, we must leave the Indian cricket team and its players alone, listen to voices of reason and sanity. And, of course, we must always remember that no one in their senses will place sport above the country.