Imagine if the Boston Red Sox did not allow a Muslim baseball player to play in Fenway Park because the two terrorists that carried out the Boston Marathon bombings identified themselves as Muslims. This would be an egregious display of overt racism that would not be tolerated in the United States. Unfortunately, this reality exists in Indian cricket,specifically for Pakistani and Sri Lankan players.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is the most exciting and fast-paced cricket league on the planet. Making its debut in 2008, the IPL’s Twenty20 format of cricket took the traditionally long and drawn out sport from 7-hour one-day matches and even longer 5-day matches to a 3.5-hour showcase of constant hitting and unparalleled excitement. It includes cricket players from all around the world for this two month long spectacle. However, despite this amazing breakthrough and prospect for cricket to become popular outside of the British Commonwealth, political conditions in India have prevented the sport from reaching its potential.
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 164 people and was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant organization Laskar-e-Taiba, the IPL banned Pakistani players from participating. During its inaugural 2008 season, there were 11 Pakistani players playing in the IPL including Sohail Tanvir, who was the leading wicket taker in the tournament (which can be equated to the pitcher who got the most strikeouts during a baseball season). In 2009, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) prevented Pakistani cricketers from playing due to diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan after the attacks. Simultaneously, the Pakistani government also prevented its players from traveling to India due to security concerns.
In 2010, despite being included in the IPL auction, no Pakistani players were selected to play in the league. Tanvir, who was an integral part of the Rajastan Royals championship win in 2008 and the best bowler in the tournament, stated, “They mean to say none of our players are good enough to be in the IPL. I am sorry to say the franchises have taken a decision not based on cricketing sense but on political grounds which is a shame and has hurt the image of the sport.” Shilpa Shetty, co-owner of the Royals, explained, “We were not convinced about their availability and that's why we did not want to take any risk.”
This continued into the 2011 season where Pakistani players were once again ignored. Interestingly, former Pakistani bowler and captain Wasim Akram was named the coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), which is owned by famed Indian Muslim actor and Shah Rukh Khan. Although Shah Rukh Khan lobbied for the inclusion of Pakistani players in the IPL for his KKR squad, he was not able to select them because of immense pressure from the BCCI. The ban of Pakistani players was in place in 2012 and continues through the current 2013 season.
Furthermore, the political pressures exerted on the sport also affect Sri Lankan players. Sri Lankan cricketers are forbidden from playing in matches that take place in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, home of Chennai Super Kings. The state has a large ethnic Tamil population. After a United Nations Human Rights Council report that was highly critical of Sri Lanka’s human rights record against ethnic Tamils during its civil war, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa decided to bar Sri Lankan players from playing in the state. In response to what Jaylalithaa said was anger by for “barbaric acts” committed against Sri Lankan Tamils, her government believed, “IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu.”
This impacts a number of preeminent IPL players and teams such as Kumar Sangakkara, captain of the Hyderabad Sunrisers, Mahela Jayawardene, captain of the Delhi Daredevils, and Angelo Mattews, captain of the Pune Warriors. Clearly, saying that these team’s best players are not allowed to play is a ridiculous assertion and disgrace to the sport of cricket.
Ultimately, the political tensions in India are ruining the image of the sport and causing the fans to suffer. With players from all over the world gathering for the tournament such as Sachin Tendulkar (India), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), Ricky Ponting (Australia), Chris Gayle (Jamaica) Dale Steyen (South Africa), Eoin Morgan (England), and Ross Taylor (New Zealand), this is an unprecedented opportunity for cricket to finally become the truly global sport that its fans have long yearned for it to be.
However, Indian politics is squandering the IPL’s potential to break into new markets and show that cricket is one of the most diverse sports in the world. With other regulations such as only allowing 4 non-Indian players to be in the field at once per team, the sport is significantly undermining the fan experience. Although they want to support local talent, they should also welcome international players with open arms.
India is consistently challenging the world stage, but political realities such as those impacting the IPL are hindering India’s progress as a true global power.