Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Implications of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore

About a dozen militants armed with rocket launchers, grenades, and AK 47s attacked the team bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team en route to play a match at Lahore's Qaddafi Stadium. It was a brazen commando-style operation killing six police officers and wounding at least six cricketers before fleeing in motorized rickshaws. The attack struck not only a major Pakistani city but also the country’s most popular sport — a game followed with near-obsessive fascination by many in the region. Helicopters evacuated the uninjured Sri Lankans from the stadium after the attack to be be flown home as soon as possible.

Tuesday's attacks highlight the internal chaos in Pakistan and add another layer to the various crises that have unfolded in recent weeks including the Taliban truce in the Swat Valley and emergency rule in Punjab following the infighting between Nawaz Sharif and the PPP led government. Although this is not the first time the security concerns have affected cricket, it is the first time that cricketers have been specifically targeted. Teams have refused to tour Sri Lanka in the past because of the civil war and the England team pulled out of India last year after the Mumbai attacks only to return after been guaranteed improved security. The Australian team was playing in London just miles away from the site of the scene during the 7/11 attacks on the London transit system but stayed on.

In recent years, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand have refused to play in Pakistan because of the security situation. The Sri Lankan team is only in Pakistan as a last minute replacement because of the Indian team's pulling out of their scheduled tour following the Mumbai attacks. One can only imagine how devastating the implications would have been if there was an attack on the Indian team. Advocates of cricket in Pakistan insisted that extremists would never attack cricket because it would erode any goodwill and sympathy the public had for them in a region where cricket is followed like a second religion. But they have been proven wrong. Militants, in an attempt to grab headlines, have dealt a huge blow to cricket and Pakistani cricket and will perhaps contribute to the downfall of the sport in the country because no team would want to visit anymore. In addition to grabbing headlines, another justification for an attack on cricket can be an effort to attack a tool of diplomacy. Indeed, in 2004, cricket was used as a tool of diplomacy when the the sports ties between India and Pakistan were revived after Prime Minister Vajpayee of India offered a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan and a series of confidence-building measures. The Indian team toured Pakistan to play a "friendship series" highly successful in winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani public, and Pakistani hospitality, in turn, winning the hearts and minds of the Indian public. But for militants who do not want to see peace, the breaking of sporting ties is a breakdown in diplomacy and friendship.


  1. I think that this situation is similar to the one that occurred a few weeks ago with the woman's tennis tournament in the UAE, and now the same thing is happening in Sweden as well.
    Due to Israel's violence in Gaza, a female tennis player had her visa application denied by the UAE, and as a result she was not allowed to play in the tournament. Now in Sweden, a match between Israel and Sweden will be played with no spectators because the Swedish tennis authority fears that an anti-Israeli aggression protest that is scheduled for that day will turn violent.

    I've always felt that sporting competition is one of the best forms of diplomacy, with the Olympics being a prime example of this (minus Russia-Georgia this past summer). Unfortunately, it seems that sporting events are now turning into political action platforms, as is evident in these situations with Pakistan, Israel, and in a few human rights protests by athletes in Beijing last summer. If we can simply revert back to when people could set their differences aside and play a game, I feel like this would greatly improve relations between countries in the Middle East and Israel, Pakistan and the countries that Aly listed, etc. I think Aly makes a valid point when he says that this would not be effective with militants, however, and I think that that's a huge weakness of using sports for diplomacy purposes today.

  2. this attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team was senseless to say the least, nothing but destructive to all parties involved

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