Cricket has been a game that is celebrated with unprecedented enthusiasm in both India and Pakistan; not only do people connect with this sport but also revel and despair in victory and defeat respectively. To rephrase a quote given by Abraham Maslow, ‘For a cricket enthusiast, he/she breathes cricket, thinks cricket and lives cricket”… and when the competition is steered between countries that have shared volatile relations the game acquires a new meaning. As India and Pakistan watched with anxiety the match between the cricket-teams, the nationalistic feelings were intensified for it is not only any other team but a nation that has always been perceived as the ‘other’.
The question then is, can we subvert the feelings attached with this match into a positive interpretation of what possibilities does cricket matches between the two nations hold for the citizens in both the countries. Bhaumik Gandhi, a student of Master in Business Administration program, says, ‘Whenever there is a match between these two nations, people see it as a revenge game, a game to settle scores in general. However, it is crucial for us to realize that cricket, or any sport for that matter, should be harnessed as a tool to unite nations by fostering a sense of appreciation for the skills involved in playing that particular game’. Similarly, Ravi Khushalani, technical consultant at HP, opines that these games should be seen for the purpose of enjoying the gaming spectacle without having any prejudices in mind for the participating teams. When biases and negative emotions are kept aside the viewers can revel in the victory irrespective of the affiliations they have for the teams they support.
Sport is an international language that can be understood by every individual irrespective of their ethnic, cultural and social values and thus the power it holds for uniting people across borders is unimaginable. According to Rohit Sakunia, founder of Mission Sharing Knowledge, an open editorial writers community, ‘Sports, especially cricket, can play a crucial role in nourishing the relations that the two nations share; that can be made possible only when the sport fans exercise control over their emotions and understand that demeaning the other won’t elevate the self’. This power, if not translated into inculcation of right attitudes in the viewers and followers, may have undesirable effects on the general psyche of the public. ‘I doubt if any sport other than cricket enjoys the popularity and has the power to compel so many people to participate in the unfolding of the matches played. If only people could be motivated to differentiate between individual inclinations towards specific teams and the idea of appreciating the prowess of the players, negativity associated with the Indo-Pakistan relations can be curbed and may even give rise to a platform for initiating social integration’ says Neelam Bhatia, Ex-employee of Canara Bank.
New media platforms these days are playing a crucial role in educating people about the convening power of sports to communicate messages of peace and co-operation. For instance, Let’s Play for Peace’ is an online event that was hosted by Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, in collaboration with the Red Elephant Foundation, with the purpose of positioning the CWC match between India and Pakistan as an opportunity for fun, friendship and revival of co-operative ties between the two neighboring nations. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere, administrator for the campaign’s page, writes, ‘A commitment to peace is required from everyone who is a part of the match. Indo-Pakistan matches often evoke hysteric and violent reactions from audiences. Victory is best enjoyed in humility and defeat is best accepted in grace’. The effects of fandom are extreme enough to motivate behavior and force people to engage in violent actions in turn demeaning the nations that they support.
When a game is played at an international level, the field becomes a site for symbolic public acts where the behavior of the fans of one group are often seen as a reflection of the collective psyche that people of their group share. Therefore, ‘Let’s Play for Peace’ campaign emphasizes that it is important for the people participating in these matches either as live audiences on field or arm-chair supporters to understand that the match is not a play for projecting, reinforcing and restating national loyalties but a means by which people across borders can connect, share dialogues and enter into deliberations about the game being played per se. It is an opportunity for all the nations to share a level field where for a change people are not divided by political, geographical and cultural barriers and are encouraged to be a part of an environment that respects values such as empathy, international co-operation and above all honesty. The campaign received immense support from the citizens of both the nations and people posted messages of support, appreciation and friendship for the participating teams.
Sneha Joshi, a follower of this page, says ‘Changing people’s perceptions is very crucial because whenever a match between India-Pakistan is held, people watch it in the context of their understanding of the relationship that the two countries share. ‘Let’s Play for Peace’ did a wonderful job by educating people about the merits for evaluating a match being played; the first being an unbiased appreciation for extraordinary skills and talent.’
With new media portals such as Aao Dosti Karein taking steps towards promoting peace by redefining cricket as an apolitical site for initiating meaningful contacts between various groups of people the wave in favor of ‘Let’s Play for Peace’ seems to be gaining momentum.