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[Editorial] Diplomatic sport

Such is the Indian and Pakistani leadership’s obsession with high-profile “event-oriented” diplomacy that they sought to exploit the craze for cricket to revitalize people-to-people contact without taking two realities into consideration.

One, that the cricketing calendar was overcrowded, the players so heavily committed, that squeezing in even a short bilateral series was virtually impossible; two, that the “boards” (certainly the Indian one) are not so dependent on government funding as to bend over backwards to further prime ministerial aspirations. So, at least one wisp of the Mohali (where the Cricket World Cup semifinal was held) spirit has dissipated and top Indian officials have abandoned notions of an imminent return of Sachin Tendulkar to the arena where he scored his first international runs.

Luckily for arrogant politicians/officials who think everyone will pander to their wishes, all is not lost. The hockey federations of both countries are trying to work out a Test series, there are indications that the governments will provide the necessary clearances. The “stick” could step in for the bat. Only those whose understanding of the true spirit and history of subcontinental sport will fail to be enthused by the prospect of hockey Tests in both countries ― even if they do not generate the media hype and cash flow of a cricketing exchange.

At an organizational level it might be less taxing to have hockey on hand. The duration of each game is shorter, the crowds may not be all that large, and the lower profile of the sport might render it less prone to disruptive forces. All factors which, regretfully, have to be considered in a scenario where sporting activity figures on terrorists’ hit-lists. Yet, make no mistake about it, the contests will be keen, tensions and rivalries would run high ― as was evident when Pakistan’s hockey stars shone in New Delhi during the World Cup and Commonwealth Games last year.

There is, however, something that would elevate hockey exchanges beyond short-term diplomatic gains. Like in so many other dimensions of life, subcontinental hockey shares a common tradition ― actually a unique one that has wilted under “European” pressure. The delicate skills that had once ensured dominance have struggled to cope with fitter, stronger, and increasingly adept it must be noted, players from Germany, Holland, Australia, Spain...

If the artistry is to be regained Pakistani and India players will have to jointly rework strategies and tactics. In short, they will have to “feed” off each other. Let the stickwork conjure up some multifaceted magic.

(Editorial, The Statesman)

(Asia News Network)