SPORT and politics should not mix. How often have you heard that meaningless line? It is untrue of any sport – and most of all cricket.
Following the humiliation meted out to former Australian prime minister John Howard – the man was roundly snubbed by Asian and African cricketing nations in his bid to become the vice-president of the International Cricket Council – it is worthwhile having a look at the political implications of a sport like cricket.
The game was spread from Britain to its colonies at the time when the British Empire ruled the waves. It took hold in India (and by extension in Pakistan and Bangladesh when those nations were formed as breakaways), the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
When Australia and England play each other for the Ashes, there are deep political connotations – England shipped convicts to Australia as its first settlers and thus Australian resentment towards the former “mother country” knows no bounds. Beating England at any sport is welcome Down Under, but it is especially sweet when it is for the Ashes.
When India and Pakistan play cricket, it is something akin to war. Pakistan was stripped away from India in a ghastly act of partition, a result of Britain’s divide and rule policy, and that wound has never healed. So great is the animosity, that when Javed Miandad hit a six off the last ball of a one-day tournament in Sharjah to give Pakistan victory over India – and this was in a minor tournament – he was showered with riches by Pakistani businessmen.
Friendly games between Indian and Pakistani supporters can turn into violent confrontations in third countries like England – and have, on many occasions, become just that.
When Bangladesh plays Pakistan, there are again political overtones. Pakistan treated the former East Pakistan as though it was a slave colony and when it broke away, with India’s help, in 1971, Pakistan was mortally wounded. It was shamed in front of the world – at the moment when its UN envoy was claiming that things were under control, TV footage of the head of Pakistan’s army surrendering to Indian forces at Dhaka race course was being broadcast worldwide. These insults have never been forgotten. They carry over onto the cricket field.
Take the games between the West Indies, a team formed from among a group of islands in the Caribbean, and England. Many black people were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves by Britain back in the days when Britain ruled these islands. For former slaves to defeat their masters is a very satisfying thing – and to the West Indies defeating England is the most important thing in cricket. It does not matter even if they lose to minnows like Kenya.
Politics in cricket is deep-rooted and will never go away. Indeed, if it did, then the intensity of the sporting contests would decrease and the crowds who come to watch would dwindle. When brown and black people get the better of white people, it is always sweet, simply because of the way the West has dominated the East for so many years. Cricket is another substitute for war and it is probably a preferable outlet to fighting on the battlefield.