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Subcontinental Drift: Queering the Pitch
Ending Indo-Pakistani cricketing ties is a mistake

November 22, 2000
Web posted at 2:15 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:15 a.m. EDT

The cancellation last week of India's scheduled December cricket tour of Pakistan was a bad idea for a number of reasons. None bigger than the fact the ban was imposed by the Indian government.

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The proffered excuse -- that Indian players would not be safe in Pakistan -- is patently hogwash. The cancellation was plainly calculated to please Hindu- fundamentalist groups that support the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In their deep hatred of Pakistan, these groups have long resented cross-border cricketing ties and have been pressuring Delhi to issue a ban. Sadly, it looks like they've won.

The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
I'll spare you the usual bromides about the danger of mixing politics and sport. In South Asia, that mixture is a fact of life -- and one of the main reasons why we fare so poorly at sports. But if, as the Hindu hard-liners posit, Pakistan's funding of Kashmiri separatists is reason enough to cancel the cricket tour, then surely a ban should have been imposed over a decade ago, when the insurgency began. Successive Indian governments (including this one) allowed cricketing ties to continue this far. Why stop now?

Ironically, cricket is probably the only sport in India that has escaped the direct control of the government. Heaven knows India's cricket board is not perfect; indeed, the Central Bureau of Investigation has suggested the body is rife with corruption. But allowing the government to call the shots would be akin to saving the lamb from the wolves only to throw it to the lions.

But there's much more at stake here than the future of a sport in South Asia. For years, subcontinental cricket has been a substitute for diplomacy. Since the two governments seem unable or unwilling to talk to each other, Indians and Pakistanis can only communicate through cultural and sporting exchanges. To cut off even these channels would not just be sad, it would be detrimental to any future prospects of amity between the neighbors.

The vast majority of cricket fans relish Indo-Pakistani encounters. So do the players. Over the years, I've quizzed many Indian cricketers about their experiences playing in Pakistan. Every one has only the fondest memories -- of organizers going out of their way to make the visiting team happy, throngs of fans wishing the squad well, and of shopkeepers refusing to accept money from players. Pakistani cricketers undoubtedly have similar stories to recount.

The most distasteful aspect of the cancelled tour is that it was instigated by Uma Bharti, the new Indian Sports Minister. To refresh your memory, this woman was instrumental in rallying hordes of Hindu fanatics to demolish the Ayodhya mosque in 1992, a seminal event in Indian politics and the lowest point in Indian secular tradition. That this barefaced bigot should be given charge of sport, the purest of human endeavor, is a travesty.

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