Cricket a Mirror of Global Politics?
Cricket, though not very popular in America is the world’s second most popular sport after soccer. In the past two years the developments in the cricketing world have pointed to some fascinating shifts in global realities.
For nearly a century and a half, England held sway over the cricket world, mirroring Pax Britannica. But as the empires declined and third world nations became independent, more and more former colonies started to compete favorably and even defeat England on the field. But as England conceded domination to Australia, flair to South Asia, flamboyance to the Caribbean nations and professionalism to the new post apartheid South Africa, it held on to the power over the game itself, by controlling its purse and its traditions.
The head quarters of Cricket was based in England, it was England that made and manipulated the rules of the game and controlled its revenues. Like it or not, the rest of the 104 cricket playing countries deferred to English rule. In search of fame and money, talented cricketers from all over the empire, travelled to England to play in its county leagues. The governing body of the sport was called the Imperial Cricketing Council and was based in England, but now it is called the International Cricketing Council and has relocated to Dubai.
In the past few years we have seen a complete shift in the balance of power in the cricketing world. Former subaltern India now generates eighty percent of the multi-billion dollar annual revenues from cricket and dominates it. Now players from the first world, England, Australia and New Zealand go to India to make their name and make money. The Indian Premier League, a multi-billion dollar franchise league modeled on the US’ basketball league, generates more dollars in six weeks than the rest of the world in a whole year. With a billion strong cricket crazy fan base and an economy that is growing at 7-9% every year even in the time of global recession, India’s hold on the fortunes of cricket appears durable. India has become such a magnet that talented cricketers even from its geopolitical rival Pakistan would rather play in its second string league (ICL) than play for their national team.
India is now using its cricketing clout to make political points too. In a recent move the Indian Cricket authorities last week gutted the bid of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s bid to become the Vice President of the International Cricket Council. John Howard, a close ally of President George W. Bush, a former supporter of the apartheid regime of South Africa and a leader who has a terrible record on minority affairs in Australia is seen as a racist, right winger in India. When he was Prime minister of Australia, there was a spike in racist attacks on Indians in Australia. Australia sees this as international humiliation and has no option but to swallow its pride rather than disrupt ties with India.
For decades, the developing world watched as the first world countries using their economic clout manipulated the rules of the game to advance their self-interests, often without regard for weaker nations. Indians learned to play cricket watching the English, and now they play the game with far more panache, passion and paisas. Now they are playing with the rules of the game and liking it too.
Pakistan in the past few years has unfortunately become the world’s terrorism central. It produces more terrorist attacks than anywhere in the world and also has the most victims anywhere in the world. In England, Pakistan and British Pakistanis are perceived as the primary terrorist threat. They are referred to as the third front (after Iraq and Afghanistan).
A terrorist attack on a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team a few years ago in Lahore has horrified foreign teams and no one wishes to visit Pakistan. Everyone suffers as a result. Pakistanis miss seeing world-class cricket at home and the world misses playing there. Pakistan regularly produces some of the most exciting cricketing talent in the world and their marginalization has made the cricket world poorer indeed.
But in a major new development, the power of cricket has overwhelmed the power of politics. Pakistan is currently playing a “home series of matches” against Australia in England and the matches are playing to packed stadiums and nearly all the fans that show up are Pakistani supporters. The Australians must be perplexed. Pakistanis seem to be more at home in their Queen’s backyard. In the temples of Anglo-Saxon cricket, Pakistanis are finding their glory. Pakistan maybe the third front in terrorism for England, but England is the home front for Pakistan in cricket.
Cricket they say, is a game of glorious uncertainties. It has shifted the powerbase from England to India and the home base from Pakistan to England. Perhaps these shifts in the balance of power in global Cricket are limited to cricket; on the other hand they could be a harbinger of profounder shifts in global realities.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).