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If sports is an alternative to war, battle it out instead of boycotting

If sports is an alternative to war, battle it out instead of boycotting

Sarah Waris

Published: 24 Feb 2019 5:37 AM GMT

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”

Sports was simple. Providing an outlet to the day’s monotony, watching one’s favourite club rout the rivals yielded an inexplicable joy. It allowed spectators to escape from their drudgery, bask in the glory and squeal in glee when a home run was completed. It helped audiences connect to a wider world, where emotional outbursts found a safe haven. Settled kilometres away from live action, a come-from behind triumph was boisterously celebrated; a nail-biting finish, silently wept.

Till unprecedented popularity came their way, athletes were no more than heroes who had won the toughest challenges with their extraordinary skills. Soon though, as sports became a bigger business and as players started wielding more influence over our culture, sports diplomacy became a rage.

When top stars spoke, the fans lent an ear. When the University of Missouri’s football team protested against the racial slurs being used unhindered on campus, the university president was ousted. When LeBron James and his Miami Heat mates showed their support for slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the power of sporting icons to bring about a change in society due to the respect they commanded was highlighted. When Mohammad Ali spoke about Donald Trump’s views on banning Muslims from the USA, it forced sects of people to unite in favour of the cause. The cricketing realm isolated South Africa to bring about a major overhaul with regards to Apartheid and the nation’s social structure, which ended in relative success.

Sportsmen thus started taking on more responsibilities. On the field, they fulfilled their primary role of motivating themselves and rising above the rivals. Success brought with it socio-political duties as well, and players started advocating the correct and unacceptable in society. However, while using sports to banish ills is common, injuring it for all kinds of political reasons hardly seems the way forward.

Indian PM Vajpayee’s message for the Indian team before the 2004 Friendship Series – “Don’t Just Win Matches, But Also Win Their Hearts”

After the unfortunate death of a number of Indian Jawans at Pulwama by a Kashmiri youth last week, the tension between the two arch-rivals India and Pakistan is at an all-time high, with India accusing their neighbors of failing to curb terrorism. This has resulted in a massive blowout in India, and very soon, sporting websites and fantasy sites suspended the coverage of the Pakistan Super League that is currently underway in Dubai. 

Also Read: Media trials targeting India Pakistan sports post-Pulwama

The impact of the enmity has oozed over to other sporting events as well, with India denying visas to two Pakistani shooters who were due to take part in the 25m pistol event in the World Cup that is being staged in New Delhi. Not only was the tournament magnanimous as it was the World Cup, it also held great importance as it offered spots for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. The event then presented an opportunity for all the shooters to seize the chance and see their years of hard work bear fruit with an Olympic spot, which is the grandest honour that an athlete can garner.

But as things stand currently, the refusal to provide visas has not only forced the International Olympic Committee to strip the two Olympic quota places out of the initial 16 that were on offer in the 25m pistol event, but has also led to a suspension of India’s application to host further events in the country. 

“The IOC Executive Board has decided to suspend all discussions with the Indian NOC and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India. We also urge all international sports federations not to hold events in India, or grant hosting rights to the country for future competitions, until the government had provided "clear written guarantees" to ensure access for all athletes,” an IOC statement said.

Also Read: India suspended from hosting future sporting events

Following this, sports minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and Indian Olympic Committee members Nita Ambani and Randhir Singh worked together to save India from the huge embarrassment, without much success. While the denial of having Pakistani nationals in India days after the cowardly act is understandable given the sentiments of the Indians, what purpose does denying sportsmen their right to succeed actually serve?

Strong Talks than Strong Steps

With our neighbours refusing any role in the attacks, the need of the hour is strong talks on a political level rather than taking steps to ban sportsmen who have worked hard to reach a position where they can dream of qualifying for the Olympics. Unless strong political steps are taken consistently, how will isolating a country on the sporting front help? India has not played any bilateral cricket series with the Men in Green since their tour to India in 2012/13, and if cutting off sporting ties had helped, we would not have been here today, talking about the brave martyrs and ways to avenge their deaths.

Outrage then will get nationals from both countries nowhere. Yes, Pakistan is our enemy, but Pakistan has suffered from terrorism just like India has suffered from it. The fight is against terrorism collectively and not against its citizens or its sportsmen. By making it a war against Pakistani players and by refusing to play the country, there seems to be a diversion. The Indian political leaders - right from India’s independence - have failed to provide stability in pockets of the nation, while Pakistan’s government has miserably failed to curb terrorist activities in their land. That should be the issue in focus here.

The hottest debate in cricketing circles at the moment is whether India should play Pakistan in the ICC World Cup this year.

Instead, the focus has shifted. Sports is being the victim - it is being made the scapegoat because attacking athletes and curbing their right to play is more convenient than taking on political leaders and pinpointing where the blame actually lies.

And if sports is indeed an alternative to war will it not be a better idea to take on Pakistan in a ‘battle’ on the field, beat them and then pride ourselves for the feat? Why then should India concede 2 vital points by not playing Pakistan in the World Cup - something that Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar have been rallying for - when they have a chance to reign supreme over them again? Why then should Indian shooters have to give up on their ambitions, when instead they could have taken their neighbours down courtesy their precision, concentration and skills?

If sports is indeed an alternative to war, fight the rivals instead of boycotting. Defeat them with dignity, walk away with heads held high and embrace the patriotic feelings that follow them.
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