Preity Upala
X-investment Banker turned Miss India Turned Hollywood Entrepreneur

Sports and Politics cannot be separated

One of the biggest matches on the planet is happening this weekend and most Americans are not even aware of it.

It is the Cricket match between the great cricketing nations of India and Pakistan, for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, held in India. The politics and drama engulfing any India-Pakistan match these days is unmatched by almost anything else in any sport globally, let alone Cricket. This sporting spectacle will be hosted in the world’ largest Cricket stadium, the Narendra Modi Stadium, Gujarat, with an expected audience of 132,000 spectators at the venue. The global TV audience would be 2 billion in the sub-continent alone. Cricket is the second most watched and lucrative sport in the world, second only to Soccer. 85% of the entire revenue for international Cricket comes from one country alone- India and with its population of 1.4 billion, it’s not hard to see how all those eyeballs convert to revenue. The IPL- India Premiere League, an Indian Cricket franchise tournament is now a 11-billion-dollar industry with TV media rights reaching record- high proportions. The global audience for Cricket now covers the entire world with the US surprisingly being the second largest market. With a World cup set to be held in the US in 2024, the sport is sure to take America by storm.

Cricket, a once elite colonial sport from England is now a very Indian affair. One of those rare scenarios where a former colony now dominates the game enormously. The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is one of the richest sporting boards in the world. The game has been a great leveler giving opportunities to many underprivileged young Indian athletes from rural towns to earn a good living. It has also created thousands of jobs and supported the entire eco-system of International Cricket not just in India but in other countries invariably as well.

The event has been not without its fair share of drama. Pakistanis’ journalists for the first time have been allowed to come into India after decades long policy by both countries to not issues travel visas to the other. Recently, a Pakistani Commentator set to cover the tournament, has been deported and barred from entering India after tweets expressing hate, racism and religious bigotry against India had surfaced. The punitive attitude from India comes after decades of Pakistani journalists and players enjoying the financial benefits of being involved with Indian cricket and at the same time expressing public statements of hate and disdain for India and Indian culture. The sheer hypocrisy has been at times too evident to the point where some former players were supporting the Pakistani military while it was committing acts of terrorism against the Indian state.

The two nations don’t play each other much these days. The BCCI has for decades adopted the policy of banning all bi-lateral games between the two countries because of the repeated terrorist attacks on India. Their hope was that Isolating Pakistan on the world stage should act as a deterrent for bad behavior from its government. “You can’t have a Cricket match going on while you have soldiers dying at the border”- was BCCI’s official statement. The financial loss for Pakistan by not playing in India is enormous and it is their cricket fans who ideally would put pressure on their government to cut back on the terrorism and normalize relations.

It is often said about India, “A Billion people, one religion called Cricket” is fitting.  The Indian cricket stars are treated like God. It is “five times larger than the Superbowl”, in terms of global interest and viewership. India today the financial epicenter of the Cricket world and has enormous influence on the game. Politics and sports cannot be divorced from each other. As India rises geo-politically, so does its soft power. Cricket today serves as India’s political and diplomatic tool. Disgraced former Pakistani PM Imran khan, now in jail on corruption charges, led his team to lift the world cup in 1992 making the sport incredibly popular in Pakistan. The BCCI is planning this match to play out like a Bollywood spectacle- with musical performances and movie stars in attendance. The Pakistani Cricket team has received a very warm welcome in India, and they are all prepared to take on their great rival for a “Clash of the ages”.

So which nation has the edge? India is looking as strong as it has ever been with a serious home advantage and Pakistan is the consummate dark horse, unpredictable with flashes of brilliance and clutch performances when it matters the most. India will have the expectations of a billion on them, but Pakistan will revel in the incredible atmosphere as well. It’s absolute box-office with an array of stars on display. The sport’s greatest- Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jaspreet Bumrah, Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi and so many more. It is anybody’s win for the taking.

No Indian fan can forget “that shot” from the former skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and these words by commentator Ravi shastri “India lifts the world cup after 28 years, the party has started in the dressing room”, when India lifted the cup in 2011. And there will be a billion fans who will want to hear those words again.

Two Cricket obsessed nations, two nuclear powers, two arch enemies fight it out on the pitch in front of the entire world. Whatever happens on Saturday evening at the Modi stadium, it is sure to be a complete spectacle. Regardless of who wins this match, it is game of Cricket that will be the ultimate victor.

About the Author
Preity Upala is a Political Editor and analyst based in Los Angeles. She is an expert on Geo-politics, Conflict- resolution, International diplomacy and Religion. Her passions in life include Spirituality, Vedic philosophy and the Science of consciousness. She is passionate about global cultural issues and her “Dharma” is to be a global thought leader, an ambassador for good and an International Liaison between governments. Preity is the host of a Radio show called 'The Eternal Hour". As an International public speaker and astute commentator, she has spoken at many panels and global Think tanks. A certified "Dharma Ambassador", she has been invited all over he world to speak on Sanatana Dharma, Spirituality and purpose. Preity has been to over 75 countries and considers herself a citizen of the world.
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