Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not The End Of Cricket As We Know It

The terrorist attack in Lahore which saw half a dozen Sri Lankan cricketers wounded, and eight other people dead has been seen as changing everything for international cricket, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s true, this event marks a turning point in how terrorism operates and as a result also changes how we respond to it. Until now, fears for the safety of touring sports people related to the risk of being inadvertently caught up in extraneous events. Now the risk has become a matter of being seen as a direct target.

Of course, tensions between Pakistan and India are nothing new, and instability in the sub-continent has always provided cause for some level of concern. But the great thing about sport generally and cricket especially is that it has played a significant role in promoting tolerance and harmony even among people who otherwise might distrust each other. It’s and important role and one whose loss would be enormous if it cannot continue. But that is exactly the point at which we have now arrived.

Some people might be tempted to start spouting some sort of gung ho nonsense that cancelling tours only allows the terrorists to win, but that is simplistic lunacy. Cricketers are not fighting a war against terrorists. They are playing sport and promoting goodwill. When people start firing machine guns and launching rocket propelled grenades it’s not the function of cricketers to place themselves in harm’s way. Whether we like it or not, the circumstances are now too dangerous to send cricketers, or any sports people for that matter, to Pakistan, and grave questions hang over the wisdom of travelling to Dubai or to India. In fact, any tour to any part of the world where there is political unrest must now be seen in a different light.

The much bigger issue is that of terrorism itself, and this event also has an impact on how we should see the so called “War On Terror”, and how it is conducted. Pakistan is at risk of disintegrating, and while the military obviously retain control of the nuclear arsenal they are also at risk of splintering. The potential exists for what is now a serious situation to become one which is grave or perhaps even a lost cause. Pakistan’s alliance with the United States hangs by a thread which could be broken if their government collapses.

The challenge for the Western World is to refocus the campaign against terrorism away from the failed military occupation of Iraq and return to the first order of business which is to deal with the proponents of terrorism as criminals rather than legitimizing them as warriors. The West must work towards alienating fundamentalists from their own supporters by both fostering prosperity among disadvantaged and disenfranchised people and at the same time forcing the extremists to recognized as enemies of peaceful civilization rather than perceived as enemies of oppression.

That’s a monumental task, one which is much more complex and challenging than mounting a military campaign, but which is essential for defeating the ideologies behind terrorism. It’s also an ambition which is promoted by international sport. We can thank the success of cricket for promoting bonds of friendship between ourselves and the people of places such as Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. It is a pursuit which provides for people from widely disparate cultures to have common points of reference and to promote peace and harmony from a grass roots level. It is something which can unite people in a way that overcomes the things which divide them. Because of the success of international sport, there is an opportunity for some of that goodwill to be brought to the efforts to combat extremism. That’s why someone like Imran Khan can have so much support from not only his own country, but from all around the world, improving his chances of bringing about a change for the better. If it wasn’t for cricket, we probably wouldn’t know and we wouldn’t care.

That’s why international sport is so important, and is so much more significant than simply playing a game.

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