World T20 2016 March 1, 2016

Political tussle clouds India-Pakistan World T20 match

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'We must not politicise sport' - Thakur

Anurag Thakur, the BCCI secretary, has expressed strong concerns over a reported letter written by the Himachal Pradesh chief minister to the Indian government, expressing his state government's difficulty in providing security for the marquee World T20 match between India and Pakistan, scheduled to be held in Dharamsala on March 19.

It is understood that Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who heads the Congress government in the northern state, wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), saying the match should not be played in Dharamsala, keeping in mind prevailing local sentiment in Himachal over the recent terrorist attacks in Pathankot, which lies close to the Pakistan border, near the intersection of the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

"Many incidents have taken place in recent past, like Pathankot attack," Singh told the media on Tuesday. "Soldiers from Himachal lost their lives in J&K. If our war veterans don't want Indo-Pak match to be held in Dharamsala, Himachal cricket association should accept their condition."

Dharamsala is set to host eight matches in the World T20, including two Super10 games: Australia v New Zealand on March 18 and the India-Pakistan game the next day.

Singh said his objection was only limited to the March 19 match. "They are not opposing holding of matches," the Himachal chief minister said. "They are against Pak team playing in Himachal Pradesh."

However Thakur, a member of parliament with the ruling BJP central government, said Singh was only playing mischief, and that it was inappropriate to mix sport and politics. "The venues for World Cup were finalised a year in advance. The allotment of matches for the World Cup were finalised many months ago," Thakur told reporters in Delhi on Tuesday. "Fans and media from around the globe based on the fixtures make their bookings and we make sure we provide them with the facilities. At the eleventh hour to show your failure that we cannot provide the security, it only gives a bad name to the state and the country. I feel there should be no politics [involved]."

According to a senior BCCI official who was involved in organising the 2011 World Cup co-hosted by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the protocol has been for the board to consult and coordinate with the federal government with respect to the security of the matches across all venues. Once the matches were allotted the MHA would then co-ordinate with the respective states where the venues were based and work closely with the security machinery including the local police commissioner for the smooth conduct of matches. This official said the same procedure was followed before the venue and match allotments were finalised by the BCCI and the ICC.

Thakur, the son of former Himachal chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, gave the example of the recent South Asian Games, which included Pakistan as one of the participating countries. "If Assam can host the South Asian Games, and 100-plus athletes from Pakistan can participate, then why is it not possible for Himachal government [to host the WT20 match]? I think there should not be any politics. It is a matter of pride for the country."

According to Thakur the Himachal Pradesh government's stand was "unfortunate", as it would only support the anti-India sentiment exisiting in certain sections in Pakistan. "Pakistan used to say that Pakistan's team is not secure in India and if the Congress government in Himachal is supporting that statement or vindicating that then it is unfortunate."

Thakur did not waste the opportunity to play ping pong with Singh, pointing out that some of the local Himachal politicians who were now protesting against allowing Pakistan to play in Dharamsala had made no objections when Pakistan played a tour match in 2005 in the scenic tourist city. "The same people who oppose this now were, in 2005, post the Kargil war, coming forward to give bouquets to these same Pakistan players and pose for photographs with them."

Thakur said he knew of many Congress ministers in favour of the match being held in Dharamshala. "There should be no politics in sport," he said. "You should look at sport in relation to the prestige of the country."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo