Although sport is capable of bringing together peoples of different nations, it’s also capable of awakening that tribalism inherent to all human beings. Many people prefer to keep sport and politics separate, but when sport is practiced in highly political and sensitive contexts, such separation is impossible. One example of that is the fierce sports rivalry between India and Pakistan.
These two countries have had tense and violent geopolitical relations almost since they won their independence. After the partition of the British India in 1947, both countries got involved in a bloody ethnic conflict that left one million people dead and 10 million displaced. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the only conflict these nations have had: The Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1965 and 1971 are some other examples of the painful and warlike history that unites them. Sadly, decades later, peace still seems far from reaching this region of the world.
Conflict leads to tribalism. Tribalism usually leads to sporting rivalries to channel it. This particular Indo-Pakistani rivalry covers multiple sports such as field hockey, football or cricket, but it’s in the last one where things are taken to another level. The passion for cricket that exists in India and Pakistan is not seen anywhere else. When these countries have to face each other, this exacerbated fanaticism is mixed with a strong ultra-patriotism.
An India vs. Pakistan match is the pinnacle of cricket matches, for the people of those countries it’s even more important than the Cricket World Cup final. On June 16, 2019, the two teams clashed in the group stage of the World Cup. The game was followed by more than a billion people. In other words, that day one-seventh of humanity did not go to work because of a cricket match! India won by 89 runs and the excitement was overwhelming throughout the country.
This is not a minor issue, for some people this game is almost like a war, a way to defend the honor of the people. The level of tribalism is such that for years matches between the two teams have had to be played on neutral grounds. In 2008, New Delhi Government cut off bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan after terror attacks that took place in Mombai and even though there are some efforts to re-establish bilateral cricket, it seems like an impossible dream until political relations normalize.
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