Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bopanna-Qureshi Partnership and Indo-Pak Relations

Tennis Diplomacy?

The Indo-Pak doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi went down fighting in the final of recently concluded US Open Grand slam Tennis Championship. But the duo won hearts of millions of viewers worldwide. Emotionally charged appeal made by Qureshi at the prize distribution ceremony, not to treat every Pakistani as terrorist and to help generously to the flood affected people of Pakistan, was well received by everybody, including their opponents, the Bryan brothers, who donated from their prize money.

Bopanna and Qureshi have been playing together for a while now. It is only their recent successes that their unusual partnership has attracted media attention. All along, the players, especially Bopanna, have maintained that this was a purely professional alliance. However, now the duo seeks to use their popularity to bridge the cross-border divide and promote peace between their respective nuclear power enabled home countries who are arch rivals for more than six decades now. They plan to play Tennis on the Wagha Border, that separates India and Pakistan by wearing T-Shirts with slogans like 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'

Tenniswise, both of them have done immense service to their respective countries as much as (if not more) they have done together for being so called peace ambassadors. Pakistan sports is in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. Cricket and Hockey are two of most popular sports in Pakistan. While four time world champions Pakistan had to undergo ignominy of finishing last in the world cup held a few months ago, Pakistani Cricketers are facing flak from everybody for their repeated involvement in corruption. Qureshi's twin success at US Open (Qureshi is also runner-up in Mixed doubles this year) has certainly given the Pakistani sports fraternity something to cheer about.

No Pakistan had ever reached the finals of any Grand slam event. India, on the other hand, has a better track record in international Tennis. However, Indian Tennis seems to have stagnated and there's nothing to look beyond Paes and Bhupati who are approaching twilight of their careers. In Bopanna, India have certainly found somebody to keep country's flag afloat.

Reading the excerpts of interview of the Indo-Pak express, as the Bopanna-Qureshi pair is being nicknamed, is quite interesting. Bopanna seems to be looking at the partnership more objectively when he says that we are not here to make any political statement. Qureshi, on the other hand doesn't hesitate to make his views clear about the involvement of politics in sports etc.

There's no doubt that Bopanna and Qureshi form a formidable doubles team. Earlier this month, they had defeated Brayan brothers, world's top ranked combination. On the Arthur Ashe stadium the other night, they displayed great skills, only to be pipped at the post by the awesome Bryans. They look set to achieve more success in years to come. It remains to be seen if their bond remains intact in the face of strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Aisam Qureshi has habit of attracting controversies. Earlier in his career, he was banned from Pakistan's Davis cup team for partnering with an Israeli player Amir Hadad. Muslim-Jew animosity is bitter as Hindu-Muslim hatred. So, it is surprising that the extremist elements in Pakistan haven't so far raised objection to Rohan-Aisam partnership.

In India too, there's no dearth of anti-Islamic elements. Sooner rather than later, right wing parties like shiv Sena or BJP may raise this issue. We might even see protests against Bopanna just as we witness calls of boycott on Pakistani artistes and players.

In the past India and Pakistan has seen many piece initiatives like Cricket Diplomacy, Bus diplomacy etc. In addition, melodramatic TV serials like Chhote Ustaad try to promote BhaiChara by featuring Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam on one stage. But they have failed to bring normalcy in the relations between the two countries. This duo, and especially Qureshi, aims to use Tennis diplomacy as the vehicle to promote peace. One cannot help becoming skeptical about the response the people of both countries might give to their slogan 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gill calls Time Out on Kalmadi

In what might turn out to be the most radical decision ever taken by sports ministry of India, headed by Mr. M.S.Gill, the government has cracked its whip on the politicians turned sports administrators like Suresh Kalmadi and V.K.Malhotra, who have monopolized the various sports federations for many years. If the order gets through the imminent legal wrangles, it could well be a major turnaround for the future of sports in India.

The government has issued orders to limit the tenures of sports administrators to not more than 12 years, with or without break. This effectively means that Suresh Kalmadi’s reign on Indian Olympics Association will be over in 2012. Mr. Kalmadi has been IOA president for last 16 years. Like IOA, many sports federations have seen extended rule of politicians. Indian Archery Association is headed by V.K. Malhotra for more than 30 years. SukhdeoSingh Dhindsa heads Indian cycling Federation for fourteen years. K.P.singh Deo (Rowing Federation) and Capt. Satish Sharma (aero club) are also set to get their prolonged tenures cut short by this order.

Mr. Kalmadi and his comrades in arms, fellow NSF chiefs, not surprisingly, are furious at the government’s decision. For long the likes of Kalmadi have been exploiting the autonomous nature of Olympics movement to their advantage. Now also, they are daring the government to take to court. It remains to be seen whether the courts of India uphold the popular sentiment of common Indian sports fan that the politicians have been the undoing of state of sports in India.

This ruling of the government has been widely welcome by many former sportspersons like Milkha Singh. Now that the monopoly of the Kalmadis and Randhir Singh etc is set to be abolished, what is needed is more men of integrity, like Milkha Singh to enter into sports administration. Former sportsmen have by and large kept away from the politics of sports administration.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't Expect Much from a Tired Team!

T-20 form of Cricket may have attracted Bollywood stars, corporates may have invested millions in it, and a lot of hype may be surrounding it, the romance of Cricket lies in the contest between teams representing nations. ICC’s T-20 Cricket world Cup starting from April 30, is a timely reminder to this fact, just in case the avid Cricket followers might have forgotten amidst the IPL tamasha.

In fact, this shortest format of the sport was introduced to attract new class of spectators. But the success of inaugural T-20 world cup, that too won by India, aroused tremendous response for it. Today, T-20 is being seen as the future of Cricket. But its overdose could well turn out to be its ruinator.

It was in June 2009, that the previous T-20 world cup was organized. ICC decided to advance third edition this year in order to avoid clashing with the ICC world cup – 50 over format to be held in 2011, in the sub-continent.

Sachin Tendulkar had opted out of T-20 right from its inception. This time Ricky Ponting has followed suit. Michel Clarke leads Australian team that is keen to make amends to its lackluster performances in earlier editions. Australians had taken this format rather lightly, but are now one of the strong contenders for the title.

Defending champions Pakistan team is full of problems. Only shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq have survived the en-mass disciplinary action by PCB. It remains to be seen how Afridi carries a relatively inexperienced team in its bid to defend the title.

The likes of Sachin and Ponting may have kept themselves away, but even after taking thousand international victims, Murlidharan can not resist the temptation of playing in world cup. In this format of the game meant for young and the fit, Murli and Jayasurya are in the Sri Lankan team. Another veteran, chaminada Vaas, however, could not find place in it. Sri Lanka face a formidable New Zealand team, led by Daniel Vettori, in the inaugural match .

Bangla Desh had sprung a couple of surprises in the 2007 world cup. (That too was held in West Indies). The team has done very little noteworthy since then. Zimbabwe team is also keen to impress in order to regain its lost test status. One of the most remarkable aspects of this world cup is the entry of war-torn Afghanistan through qualifying rounds.

MS Dhoni is leading a team of battered and bruised players who have been moving around the country relentlessly for IPL matches. Tired because of hectic schedule of matches and the late night parties after the matches. Indian fans will be better off not to expect much from the team.

For the first time, men’s and women’s world cup is being held simultaneously. Indian women’s Cricket team has always fared consistently. Unfortunately, the team has never received the same attention as the men’s team gets. Zulan Goswami is leading a strong Indian team into the competition. The team needs as much of good wishes as the Dhoni brigade.