Devastating news for Pakistan: today the International Cricket Council (ICC) stripped the country of its hosting rights for the 2011 Cricket World cup, citing security concerns. In particular, the ruling pointed to an attack last month which injured six visiting Sri Lankan players and killed seven Pakistanis. Pakistanis are not reacting well to the decision, arguing that with the tournament more than two years away, the decision was overly hasty, as there was still time to improve the security situation before teams and fans began arriving.
I'm no cricket fan, but as I understand it, the sport is a fixture of South Asian culture (Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka) as well in the former British Empire more generally, making the World Cup a major international event. Most importantly, this passion for cricket and the pending World Cup gave Pakistan visibility on the world stage as something other than a state teetering on the brink of terrorist anarchy. With the World Cup gone, news from Pakistan will be that much more dominated by stories of violence and political upheaval.
For those of us who believe economic development is a critical part of fighting extremism, this story is part of a viscious cycle. Image is reality in a case like Pakistan's: the more people think the country is disfunctional, the more it actually becomes so. A world sporting tournament would have had the opposite effect: an injection of capital and positive attention, and a much needed respite from constant political pessimism. While I hardly expect cricket players to risk their safety for the sake of Pakistan's international image and self-esteem, I'm tempted to join Pakistanis in asking if it would have killed the ICC to wait a year or so before bailing on them.