Eric Heiden, in the shadow of the USA’s boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, was quoted as saying, “sports and politics don’t mix.”
It’s a truism that was used long before Heiden, and has been deployed infinite times since, and is one that – undoubtedly – will last long beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this.
Nelson Mandela had a different view: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
If this all seems arbitrary, it really is not – we’re arriving at a moment in time where one of these two views (or a corruption thereof) will have to prevail, and (just as in the 1970s and early 1980s) it will be a moment that defines our sporting landscape for the next decade, or two, or more.
Anurag Thakur, BCCI secretary, made the most heavily politicised comment, when he Tweeted that there would be no revival in cricketing relations between the two nations if Pakistan continues to (allegedly) harbour Dawood Ibrahim (according to the Indian government, a dangerous terrorist).
It’s a dangerous sentiment to express, it suggests that cricket can – and will – be used as a tool of the Indian government. But whilst bilateral series won’t go ahead, India will continue to host Pakistan in international tournaments, a somewhat blatant hypocrisy.
The issue, if you’re of the ‘sport and politics don’t meet’ train of thought, is that the precedent was set half a century ago, at the height of the apartheid situation: from the so-called D’Oliviera Affair, to the protests in Australia in the early 1970s, to the Gleneagles Agreement and the significant issues faced during the early 1980s in New Zealand, and the subsequent rebel tours throughout that decade.
It’s an issue that encompassed the world, and transcended the core issue of social mistreatment in South Africa. Suddenly, it became about arbitrary side-issues: should we, or should we not, allow innocent sportsmen to be dragged into the issue?
Cricket, along with rugby, became a political plaything. The Oppositions around the world hammered respective Governments, and insults were thrown about in parliaments that degraded and disrespected sportsmen playing their sport for a living.
It was a messy, and eventually violent, time – one which started out with honest intentions, and descended into a farcical mess of bickering and disputes. South Africa’s division divided the world: splitting countries, communities, even families.
Now, in 2015, we face a similar proposition. Just one that is certain to fall even further into violence; and violence of a far more significant nature. We’ve seen that evident throughout the entire 68-year history of Indo-Pakistani relations since partition. Whatever the reasons for the tension between these nations (and many would lay it on the colonial influence of the Britons), it’s an issue that has sat dormant – nay, active – for far too long.
So what should happen? The easy answer is to point to Heiden’s quote. It’s the simple cop-out, and one that is hard to dispute. I certainly wouldn’t advocate for sportsmen being punished for the sins of others.
And yet, and yet. Where are we as a society, if we see the continuation of sporting relations as more important than solving the significant political and security issues going on between Pakistan and India?
Yes, with Pakistan’s ‘home’ cricket being hosted in the UAE, security isn’t an issue in that regard, but it heightens existing problems. The more on-field relation between Pakistan and India, the more those issues come to the fore, courtesy of dangerous minority (and I daresay majority) groups.
Equally, the security measures in India seem to be at their safest in a long time. It’s hard to see Azhar Ali being attacked in Delhi during a Test series. But is it worth that risk? And is it worth warming those tensions, and risking attacks, caused by, even if not targeted at, cricket and cricketers?
Tragically, this is something that has to be decided in the negotiation rooms of the respective governments. As much as sport and politics mustn’t meet, equally, there are some issues that are much larger than sport will ever be, or indeed should ever be.
Both governments will need to make concessions, but if India’s claims are true, then it seems certain that Pakistan are providing a circumstance whereby India have no option but to cut ties. Let’s hope Mandela’s emphasis prevails, and sport inspires change, and isn’t merely a tool used to cause more problems.
Sport and politics can meet to cause good, an eventuation tragically rare.
Whatever happens, it’s not going to be a quick-fix.