Monday, 28 May 2012

India should take Cricket Diplomacy in Burma

I have always said that sports is the best form of Diplomacy. If you talk about Cricket you can strongly relate it to 2 places- The founder England, and area where Cricket is Religion- South Asia.

England no doubt took Cricket to most of the places in the world and they presently have a strong legacy for the game, but it is the South Asians that have brought in the passion, where Cricketers are considered as god.South Asians have migrated, immigrated, emigrated to all corners of the World, be it Spanish speaking South America or Europe. These people might have left their countries but their love for the game stays. An NRI (Non Resident Indians) or his counterparts from Pakistan or Bangladesh would wake up nights so that they can see their Super Stars playing Cricket.

And did this passion stay in these countries. Lets go back in past a little. Till 80's the 2 nations from South Asia were India and Pakistan. Seeing the passion in a India Pakistan games inspired many in other South Asian countries. The Sri Lanka who also had a strong cricket culture, who with support from India also soon became a "Test Team" and a cricket force. Then it was the turn of Bangladesh. The World Cup coming to South Asia inspired many Bangladeshi's and many had a wish to see their team playing in the World. Their wish came true in 1999 World Cup and soon they also reached the top flight and became a Test Nations.

Now this cricket flavor also took over 2 more South Asian countries- Afghanistan & Nepal. So much is the passion in these countries that when they had domestic team and U-19 teams playing the grounds were filled with thousands of people. The Afghan's who picked up the game in the Refugee camps in Pakistan, inspired by Imran Khan (Who is a Pashtun, the Biggest ethnic group of Afghanistan) and his 1992 World Cup, had a fairy tale story, starting from Div 5 to make it to the World Twenty20.

Nepal picked the game from many Indians who worked in India and the advent of Cable TV back in the country. Nepal is at a growth story and will not be surprised if they are counted amongst the top associate in 2015 WC Onwards

The other 2 smaller nations of South Asia Maldives and Bhutan despite having small populations have also punched much above their weight in Cricket too.

Cricket diplomacy has worked for South Asia. Most recently the World Cup semi finals in Mohali broke some ice between nations and the 2 prime ministers watched the match. In 1988 Zia Ul Haq flew to Jaipur to watch a match and is known to have averted a war between the 2 nations. During BJP led NDA, both India and Pakistan toured each other and those were the best times as many buses were started, fans traveled and welcomed in other country.

Myanmar, like most South Asian countries has been a part of British Empire. They played a First Class match against a Ceylon(Sri Lanka) team and had defeated them in past. They also played first class matches against MCC during that time. It is rather surprising that Cricket until now was non existent there.

The reason behind that was before independence the country came under Japanese rule who encouraged the local Burmese to against everything British. Also Cricket like in most places was played by the elite which was the British and Indians. The Burmese hated both these and Cricket also became a victim as sports of the Elite. After Independence everything British was shunned, the Indians were forced out hence all trace of Cricket was gone. Also then the country went into isolation which brought any chance of resurgence.

It was after ICC went into expansion mode that Myanmar was included as a Affiliate Member. Cricket then made a resurgence in the country. A movie Bo Ba based on Lagan was popular across the country. The country has built first stadium outside Yangoon. But still the game was limited to Yangoon and country still closed to outsiders

Cricketers like Dhoni can both people closer

Now with the country opening up and all countries trying to make inroads in the mineral rich country. India a very important neighbor and has historical links with the country. It was the country which for many years supported the democracy movement. With China making inroads it started co-operation with the Military Junta. Now with both sides patched up India finds itself in good position.

Now to take things to next steps, and reaching out to people, India needs use the powerful tool of sports. India to start with needs to bring in coaches and reach the schools in the major cities of Yangoon and Mandalay. This will help introduce Cricket to children who through the sports will come to know a lot about Indians. Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli, Dhoni and how they are followed will help people to know inside in India. Second to this India needs to bring in some stars and help spread diplomacy through cricket.

India also then needs to develop infrastructure of Cricket in Major 2-3 Cities and perhaps after Cricket reaches to some knowledge level help set up the league. Talking with the government, India can use Bollywood+Cricket through Lagaan, IPL and make inroads.

This is easier said than done, and a focused effort is required. However India must understand through this and cricket establishing, India can bring people of both countries closer which will take relationship to next level. When hearts of people meet the rest of things follow soon. India has such an advantageous tool to its advantage and should maximize it.