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Pak Players, IPL 2010 and the Politics of Cricket

It is often said that politics and sports should not be mixed. I have heard this a lot during the last two decades in terms of Indo-Pak relations and cricket. Needless to say, Indo-Pak relations are not exactly like bread and butter after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan players were not allowed by the Pak government for IPL 2009, nor would Indian government have given them issues if Pak government would have allowed them.

Coming to IPL, it is big money and no player would want to miss it, whatever the reasons given. So when the auction for 2010 IPL was announced, Pak players wanted to be a part of it. After getting clearances from their government and as per expressed shown by IPL franchisee teams, 11 Pakistan players were included for the auction. The list included big-ticket players like Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul and Umar Akmal. Many of them were part of the world cup winning Pak squad and Afridi was the top runner for the most-expensive bid this time.

But what happened at the auction surprised one and all. There were no takers for the Pakistani players and they were not touched by any of the franchisees. It was a total embarrassment for Pak players in the auction. The franchisees explained it on grounds of cricketing strategy or availability during the tournament, but interestingly, for a player to be included in the auction, he had to be supported by at least one team.

All the franchisees were unanimous in their approach at the bidding process. Something happened during the two weeks preceding the auction that changed their minds. Some are saying the govt refused to give a guarantee to issue their visas. There were intelligence reports of more attacks and in the case of an attack, nobody would have predicted the outcome. But certainly the whole thing could have been handled better. Players are professional sportsmen and they deserve their dignity and self-respect. Shahid Afridi termed it as a big “insult” to the players and their country by India.

Some people are justifying the decision by saying they deserve to be treated like that, after what happened in Mumbai in Nov 2008. Sure it still hurts in every Indian’s heart thinking about the attacks of 26/11. But one should not get emotional and take every decision with reason. Especially when it involved relations between two neighbors. Pak players are not terrorists and everybody knows that. People might not love them because they are Pakistani’s is an acceptable fact and if you don’t want them to play in your country, don’t invite them. But inviting them and disgracing  them is certainly not sports. It’s politics. And it’s bad. Think how would we have reacted if something like this has happened to players like Sachin, Sehwag, Dhoni, etc…

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. One bad act cannot justify another bad act. Mixing politics with sports will not only harm the relations between the two nations, it will also create unnecessary tension between players who only want to play cricket. Already there are talks in Pakistan to ban Hindi movies and anti-India protests have started. A small issue not handled well could create unnecessary tension between the two countries. And it not help anyone. It will give fuel and reason to terror outfits to strike again.

Instead of stopping Pak players from playing in the IPL, it is more important to make our borders strong and impossible to penetrate. Still we are running buses and trains between the two countries. If that is ok, how can Pakistan players playing under total security could be a problem? In the end, the cricket fan in Pakistan is confused, heartbroken and angry. Cricket fans in India will not be able to see the World T20 Champions playing in their country. And nobody can guess how long the controversy will continue in political circles!!!

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