|June 29, 2002||atimes.com|
It's just not cricket anymore in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - In a country as ethnically diverse as Pakistan, it has been said that the two things that bind society together are the Urdu language and cricket. Now, with the "militarization" of cricket under the regime of President General Pervez Musharraf, cricket is losing its charm.
For the first time in several decades there will be no international cricket season in the country this year. And, since the present cricket establishment is under the command of a serving lieutenant-general, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. This was driven home recently when land that had been earmarked for a new international cricket academy was "gifted" to the Pakistan army for another housing complex for officers.
The uninitiated might say that cricket is just a game. This could not be further from the truth in Pakistan, where the antics of the national team arouse fierce nationalist passion, and where political rulers use the sport as a channel for diplomacy between India and Pakistan.
Nowadays, though, cricket is under threat as it is under the "command and control" of former Special Services Group Commando and now Lieutenant-General Tauqir Zia.
Cricket insiders confirm that no international matches will be played in Pakistan this coming season. The all-conquering Australians were scheduled to arrive in August, but they have said they would not travel to Pakistan for security reasons, and the matches might now be played in either Australia or Morocco.
"This is the result of the inept behavior of the present cricket management, which does not know how to deal with matters at an international level," said a prominent test cricketer on the condition of anonymity. (Issuing statements is banned under the present cricket regime, and stars such as Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus have been thrown out of the national team for doing this despite their undoubted prowess on the field.)
"Last year England was scheduled to play in India but they refused due to the tense situation in the region. The Indian Cricket Board contacted the ICC [International Cricket Council - the world governing body]. The ICC favored India and asked England to either play or pay a fine. As a result, England came down to India and played a series," the cricketer said.
He continued, "In the absence of professional managers there is nobody in the PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] who knows the business and, despite the deteriorating regional and domestic situation, is able to keep cricket alive in the country. The chairman of the PCB, who happens to be a serving lieutenant-general, and his secretary, a serving brigadier, Munawar Rana, always act like generals rather than top sports officials."
Last year, New Zealand and the West Indies were scheduled to play in Pakistan. After September 11 they both pulled out of their tours. However, the West Indies and Pakistan later played in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. New Zealand rescheduled its tour to this year. But as the team were about to leave their hotel in Karachi on May 8, a bomb blew up a bus across the street, killing a number of people, including 11 French nationals. The New Zealanders immediately left the country.
"There are many examples of bomb blasts in many countries, but this has never obstructed sports activity," said Arif Ali Khan Abbassi, a former chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Control Board (now the PCB). He says there should be someone who can tell New Zealand this fact. "But I am afraid there is nobody in the Pakistan Cricket Board who can tell them that these incidents have never hampered sports activities anywhere in the world," Abbassi observed.
Terror threats in Pakistan are nothing like those in Indian-administered Kashmir or even Sri Lanka, but matches are held there. Indeed, Pakistan once played in Sri Lanka after a bomb blast next to the team's hotel. During the 1996 World Cup, when many other teams refused to play in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India played friendly matches in that country to show their solidarity with the Sri Lankans. But this was possible only because the cricket boards of the two countries made a strong case.
Smart cricket officials have shown that they can outwit politicians bent on extracting political mileage out of the sport. Indian firebrand Bal Thackeray is a leading Hindu extremist and he once said he would never allow a Pakistani team to play in Mumbai. Reporters asked the then chief of the Pakistani control board, Abbassi, his response to such a threat. "Is he the new of boss of the Indian Cricket Control Board?" Abbassi retorted with a smile. His remarks were televised in India and the next day Thackeray announced, also with a smile, that only Arif Abbassi could bring a team to India - which he did without any problems.
Conversely, the man in charge of cricket in Pakistan now, Tauqir Zia, has the strategy that "any threat must be countered through threat". This is hardly an approach that is going to revive cricket ties with other countries.
This is more the pity as cricket can serve as a useful diplomatic tool. The late dictator General Zia ul-Haq was a keen cricket lover, although he at times exploited the game to further his own ends, such as scheduling games when opposition protest rallies were planned. Cricket would invariably prove the stronger attraction.
Zia often attended the games, especially in Karachi, a stronghold of cricket, and he would speak after the game, at times announcing a public holiday if the national team won. This made for better headlines the next day than possible police clashes with demonstrators.
Similarly, in a standoff between India and Pakistan during the mid-1980s, Zia astonished the world by making a sudden visit to India to watch a match between the two countries. This successful "back door" diplomacy during the time of Indian leader Indira Gandhi is still remembered on the subcontinent as Zia's cricket diplomacy, which immediately eased tension between the countries.
Zia was also kind to cricket. He awarded a 99-year lease of 42 hectares of land to the Pakistani control board, including the national stadium in Karachi and some extra land for the promotion of cricket. He ensured that many cricketers were given good jobs in commercial organizations.
This is not the case with the present cricket regime, though. It only trusts the army, and thus it has sacked cricketers from many state-run organizations and replaced them with army officers, such as in Pakistan International Airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Water and Power Authority and the Karachi Electric Supply Corp.
And this was the case with the land that was to be used for a cricket academy. Selected army officers might have better housing quarters, but the game of cricket will be the long-term loser in Pakistan.
(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Front | China | Southeast Asia | Japan | Koreas | India/Pakistan | Central Asia/Russia | Oceania
Business Briefs | Global Economy | Asian Crisis | Media/IT | Editorials | Letters | Search/Archive
back to the top
©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.
Room 6301, The Center, 99 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong