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For God's sake, don't mix politics with sport
19 Mar 2003 09:46


First Pakistan, now Malaysia, what next? Bangladesh? It is terribly disconcerting to note that sports is increasingly being used as a weapon by the Government to settle political and economic scores.

The refusal to permit the hockey team for the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament at Ipoh this week is the latest shock and comes in the wake of the decision to withdraw from the South Asian Games at Islamabad later this month. For over three years, India has persistently avoided playing Pakistan in a bilateral cricket series, even in neutral venues.

It is clear that denial of permission for the hockey team is an expression of the Government's disenchantment over the ill-treatment meted to more than 170 IT professionals in Kuala Lumpur. Various other means are also going to be employed to express the displeasure over the ugly happenings involving the Malaysian police last week. The action against the IT experts is highly condemnable and enough has been said by the Government spokesmen in both countries.

What the Government seeks to achieve by stopping the hockey team from playing in Malaysia is the big question. Is this enough to reform the Malaysian authorities into adopting a more sophisticated method to check illegal immigrants? The savage treatment of illegal entrants from Tamil Nadu in Malaysian prisons has been well documented by several vernacular papers for many years. But the response from the same Government was one of complete indifference till now.

It is difficult to guess how much of an impact the decision to abort the Ipoh trip will have on the Malaysian authorities. Perhaps very little. First of all, hockey is not a major sport in Malaysia unlike football, sepak takraw or badminton. It is only popular with those of Indian origin, and sometimes, embarrassingly to the host, Indian teams enjoy vociferous backing from the crowd even while playing against Malaysia.

Apart from upsetting the schedule and affecting ticket sales — the India-Pakistan encounter was slated for March 26 and the officials anticipated a sell-out crowd — there is nothing that will rattle the Malaysian Government regarding the stand taken by India.

On the contrary, the losses for India are tremendous. First, the training for over two months has gone down the drain. Secondly, the team has lost an opportunity to play for the first time under the new experimental laws, which include the testing of a third umpire concept by the International Hockey Federation.

It is now certain that the Council of Malaysian Hockey Federation will pass a resolution expressing regret over India's pull out at the 11th hour and decide not to invite India ever again. The FIH, on a complaint from MHF, may also seek to impose sanctions on the IHF since the tournament regulations stipulate that no team should withdraw without a month's notice unless forced by extraordinary circumstances that satisfy the International Federation.

India may have a lot of explaining to do should the FIH take up the issue, especially at a time when the teams are preparing for next year's Olympic qualifier at Madrid.

How much these repercussions were discussed by the authorities in the Ministry of External Affairs is anybody's guess. It is indeed unfortunate that the Ministry, headed by no less an administrator than Mr. Yashwant Sinha who is also the President of the All India Tennis Federation (AITA), should use sport as a vehicle to exact revenge. Would Mr. Sinha's Ministry have taken a similar decision if India was to play Malaysia in a Davis Cup match?

A dozen questions can be thrown but they will only worsen the already gloomy mood. What the sports fraternity needs to do at this juncture is impress upon the Government to stop using sport — time and again — to gain political or economic advantage, however effective that may be.

It is time the federations jointly force the Government to put an end to this disturbing trend. Of course, links with Pakistan come under a different category as has been the case for over five decades now. At least with the other countries a different yardstick should be employed.

It would be interesting to watch the Government's reaction to the cricket team's tour of Dhaka for a tri-series next month. Will the MEA advise the BCCI to stay away in view of the tension between the countries over the question of illegal immigrants pouring into our Eastern borders from Bangladesh or for the alleged presence of jehadis who have taken refuge in that country?

With India making preparations for staging the oft-postponed Afro-Asian Games in October at Hyderabad, security is likely to be a nightmare if the U.S. declares war on Iraq as feared now. And quite possibly it is sport that will become the major casualty again.

*Article reproduced with kind permission from The Hindu 

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