What does BCCI achieve by keeping Pakistani fans, cricket writers away?

A large number of Pakistani cricket fans, even those who bought tickets online for Sunday’s India-Pakistan match in Ahmedabad, are unable to visit India owing to visa delays

India vs Pakistan: A complex cricket rivalry hitting new heights (photo: National Herald archives)
India vs Pakistan: A complex cricket rivalry hitting new heights (photo: National Herald archives)

AJ Prabal

Sana Kazmi, who had watched the World Cup semi-final in Mohali in 2011, has cancelled plans to cross the border this time for the 50-over ICC World Cup 2023. Even back in 2011, she told Al Jazeera, the Indian visa website was a nightmare to navigate. “This time, we aren’t able to access the website at all,” she said.

In 2011, if visiting Pakistani cricket fans needed help in finding tickets and booking a hotel room, complete strangers from India would respond to pleas for help on social media. This time, if Pakistani fans or even journalists post anything on social media about difficulties in travelling to India, the response from Indians is often crude and insulting, she added.

It almost seems as though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) welcomes an India-Pakistan match but without Pakistanis in the stadium, quipped cricket writer Sharda Ugra during a chat with Karachi-based writer Ahmer Naqvi for The Wire.

The BCCI is rolling out a two-day extravaganza at the Narendra Modi stadium, Ahmedabad beginning Saturday at 12.30 pm with a blast of live music. Singers Arijit Singh, Shankar Mahadevan and Sukhvinder are expected to be the star performers on 14 October. Indeed, the World Cup had opened to an almost empty stadium on 6 October, drawing widespread criticism for the most shoddily organised World Cup ever. 

Things have indeed changed, agreed Naqvi, who joked that historically, the Indian cricket team appear to visit Pakistan more when the military is in power there. There was a time not too long ago, however, when journalists were writing about Amritsar-Lahore romances, he recalled with a chuckle.

Umer Faizan, a cricket fan who had tickets to Pakistan’s first two matches of the tournament, told Al Jazeera from Islamabad, “We are not eligible for a refund as we fall under the ‘no show’ category.” He had bought the tickets in a pre-sale offer in August, nearly two months ahead of Pakistan’s first match on 6 October.

Jay Shah, the honorary secretary of the BCCI and president of the Asian Cricket Council, as is well known, happens to be the son of India’s powerful home minister Amit Shah. With the Union home ministry having considerable say in granting visas, especially to Pakistanis, it is inconceivable that the issue of granting visas to Pakistani writers and fans could not be sorted out by the BCCI.

Yet, the International Cricket Council (ICC) last week told the media that BCCI, which is hosting the World Cup this year, was trying its best to sort out the issue of Indian visas for Pakistani cricket writers and fans. Who was the ICC trying to fool? It is the ICC which organises the World Cup and, at least in theory, can pull up the BCCI in case of shoddy organisation. 

Suspicion that the reluctance to grant travel permits to Pakistani writers and fans is related to politics was bolstered on Friday by trending posts on X, formerly Twitter, calling for a boycott of the India-Pakistan match on Sunday. The orchestrated campaign on the social media platform blamed Pakistan for violence and terror attacks in areas near the border.

Many of the posts shared video clips of the welcome accorded to the Pakistani team at their Ahmedabad hotel and voiced outrage at women dancing as part of the welcome ceremony.

India and Pakistan downgraded their diplomatic missions in 2019 following the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent aerial bombing carried out by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan. With the Pakistan cricket team visiting India after a gap of seven years, it provided an opportunity to put bilateral relations back on track; but political considerations owing to impending state assembly elections and the general election in India may have outweighed others.   

Zainab Abbas, one of the handful of Pakistani broadcasters allowed in though 60 were shortlisted, left abruptly on 9 October after an Indian lawyer filed a complaint against her for an allegedly derogatory tweet in 2014.

“Politics will keep happening between countries but if you let people come, it will only increase the friendship. I have always had very nice experiences in India. And though India-Pakistan have seen some bad times, it has never come to this before,” lamented Javed Iqbal to Newslaundry.

Whoever gains by keeping Pakistani fans and journalists away from the World Cup, cricket and BCCI are both already the losers.

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Published: 13 Oct 2023, 4:44 PM