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After the Indian cricket team’s historic and immensely successful tour of Pakistan in 2004 – on and off the field – the United Nations (UN) had declared the two teams “spokespersons” for the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE 2005).
Remember that tour had come after the Kargil War, after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf surprised all by granting permission to the bilateral cricket series when it was not on the radar.
“The cricket teams have been recognized for serving as catalysts of peace in early 2004, when the India team traveled to Pakistan for the first time in over 14 years to compete in a cricket series amidst thawing relations between the two countries. In reciprocal action earlier this year, Pakistan’s cricket team travelled to India for competition and Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf used the opportunity to visit India after several years to engage in peaceful dialogue with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” the UN had said in a statement.
The UN noted that the two teams had pledged to cooperate with the global intergovernmental organisation to use the power of sport to bridge cultural and ethnic divides and encourage peaceful relations.
Unfortunately, the bond established between the two countries has now been broken following the Pulwama terror attack, with demands of India shunning their upcoming World Cup match in England in May-July. In a repeat of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final, India are scheduled to play traditional rivals Pakistan at Old Trafford in Manchester on June 16.
In one of the worst-ever terrorist attacks in India, a suicide bomber associated with Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) rammed an explosive-laden vehicle on a CRPF convoy at Pulwama on February 14, killing at least 40 personnel.
Opinion Poll: Should India have sporting ties with Pakistan?
While bilateral cricket series has always been a 'thorn' in the flesh of both countries, athletes of other low profile sports continue to visit each other’s country without attracting attention at all. Chess players, golfers, kabaddi teams and even some other sports continue the sporting exchanges and, at times, they go completely unnoticed in the media, finding the news tucked in a corner of the newspapers.
Apart from the cricket issue, India didn’t grant visas to a few shooters who were to compete at the ongoing shooting World Cup in New Delhi, and as a result, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday revoked the 2020 Olympic qualification status from the men's 25m rapid fire event.
“The IOC restricted the withdrawal of recognition as an Olympic qualification event to the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate. This happened in the interest of the other 500 athletes from 61 countries participating in the other events who are already in India for their competition,” the IOC said in a statement on Friday, after its executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Interestingly, hardly anyone is talking about or sympathising with the Indian shooters, like Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anish Bhanwala. Now that the Olympic quota places have been revoked from the Delhi event, the Indians and participants from other countries will have to earn quota places in the subsequent World Cups.
The Pakistan shooting federation had earlier requested the world shooting body not to offer quota places in the events in which their shooters are not able to compete due to denial of visa.
No one is also talking about the Davis Cup tennis tie that India is scheduled to play in Pakistan in an Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie in September. Of course, that is sometime away, and a decision on the Davis Cup tie is unlikely to be taken now, as a new Central government that comes into power after the general elections in May-June would take the decision.
Only if politicians of both countries could keep sports away from politics. They can take a leaf out of India’s historic cricket tour to Pakistan in 2004. That was, of course, the pinnacle of the sporting relations between the neighbours since the formation of Pakistan.
It had brought the people and politicians of the two countries together like never before. As many as 8,000 Indian fans, politicians, businessmen and cricket administrators had visited Pakistan. Not all of them went to Pakistan to watch the matches; many people went there just to see their ancestral homes – if they were intact or redone post-Partition.
The Pakistani cricket team paid a return visit to India in 2005 and 2007, and their players and fans were also welcomed warmly in India. The Punjab Cricket Association hosted dinner at its stadium for close to 10,000 Pakistan fans who had come to Mohali to watch the Test match there in 2005.
The large-hearted people of Mohali and neighbouring Chandigarh had hosted a big majority of those Pakistani fans – complete strangers to them, except their common culture and language – at their homes. This was after busloads of fans had arrived via Wagah border at Chandigarh’s Sector 16 stadium to be treated with hot pakoras and tea, as witnessed by this reporter.
“Bhai sahib [the Chandigarh host of the Pakistani fan has not just offered his home for our stay but also made arrangement for visiting tourist places around. I had never met him before I landed here last night,” Ayub had told The Tribune at the time.
This reporter himself visited the house where Pakistan’s world-famous ‘Cricket Chacha’ – the globe-trotting cheerleader of the Pakistani team – was staying. He looked at ease, the bond of humanity binding the host and the guest like they had known each other for ages.
Those were the good old days when the India-Pakistan sporting relations were on a high. There was no tension; no rhetoric. Sadly, things have drastically changed now.