The two worlds of sport and politics can often collide in controversial circumstances, something the ICC has moved to quell ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup in India.
Major sporting events have often been defined or affected by rising diplomatic tensions. Denmark won the European Championship in 1992 having taken the place of disqualified Yugoslavia, whilst America boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow for political reasons. With India and Pakistan currently experiencing a breakdown in political relationships with the former’s attempted annexation of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the ICC has sought written confirmation Pakistan players will be issued a visa for the tournament, scheduled for autumn.
The issue was allegedly brought up by the Pakistan Cricket Board at a recent meeting of the international cricket body, causing a letter to be sent to the Board of Control for Cricket in India seeking assurances. It is felt a problem with visas heading into the tournament could throw it into disarray, and after the recent problems with major sporting events, the ICC is demanding a smooth and successful tournament.
There was a T20 World Cup scheduled for autumn 2020, which was meant to take place in Australia. Sadly, as was the case around the world, they had to be cancelled courtesy of the pandemic. In fact, 2020 saw almost all elite sport take a hiatus, with several major tournaments lost around the world. Football was severely disrupted, as was golf and tennis. According to Bwin, the biggest shock of all was the postponement of the summer Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo. That very same Olympics will now take place in a packed 2021, as will a T20 World Cup.
However, Australia will now host the 2022 tournament, leaving India with the responsibility for putting on the expected event from last year. Whilst the cricket-loving country, home of the renowned IPL, is ready in terms of fanbase and infrastructure, those growing issues with Pakistan could derail the efforts of the ICC and indeed, the BCCI.
It would not be the first time the intense rivalry the two share on the cricket field has been disrupted by political issues. The two sides first met in 1952, when Pakistan toured India. Test and limited over series have taken part between the two since, but several major events have disrupted that. There were no matches between 1962 and 1977 due to major political unrest, whilst events in 1999 and 2008 also caused the sport to be affected.
During times of relative peace, the tension between the two countries means the games are incredibly popular, with plenty of fans wanting to go and watch. The 2019 Cricket World Cup meeting between the two countries drew 800,000 applicants for tickets, and other games are always in high demand too. That leads to a degree of ‘cricket diplomacy’, in which the sport can be used to ease tensions, with residents and heads of state allowed across borders for big games.
The ICC will be hoping that the T20 World Cup sees such diplomacy, and perhaps those at the sharp end of the hostilities will be keen to see the same effect as they seek to set aside differences in 2021.