Sport and Colonialism

Today’s Guardian has an interesting article (which from the byline appears to have been written by Pakistanis) on the different attitudes towards cricket in Pakistan. Imran Kahn explains how success at cricket helped the country feel proud of itself in the past:

“The colonial hangover was removed by the cricket team,” he said. “When I started we were the generation that couldn’t possibly think of beating England. Then we began beating England. Much more important than beating other teams was to beat England because they were considered the master, the ex-colonialists. It was a country regaining its honour and pride through cricket, getting that self-esteem that colonialism destroys.”

And yet earlier this week the unthinkable happened. Pakistani terrorists attacked a a visiting cricket team, clearly intending to kill them all. Why? Because the terrorists regard cricket as a colonial import:

Among militant groups, though, cricket is considered an imperial throwback. The banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, suspected of involvement in the recent Mumbai and Lahore attacks, called upon Pakistanis to give up the sport. “The British gave Muslims the bat, snatched the sword and said to them: ‘You take this bat and play cricket. Give us your sword. With its help we will kill you and rape your women,'” the LeT said in its magazine.

The situation is similar in the rest of the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean. Some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever known have come from India, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. What is more, the most high profile domestic cricket tournament in the world – the one with the most money involved, the one that players from all over the world want to be part of – is the Indian Premier League. Australia’s players might still be on top of the world, but when money and politics are taken into account it is India that runs the game. This infuriates stuck-up Englishmen.

Clearly I’m not a Pakistani, or indeed from anywhere in the former British Empire. I have no voice in their internal debate. Some of my ancestors, however, are from a part of Britain that was conquered by the English around a thousand years ago and was treated as a colonial possession for hundreds of years. Rugby is a game that was invented in an English public school, and is very much a creation of the upper classes (lower class English people are supposed to play soccer instead). And yet rugby is a game that the Welsh took to their hearts – particularly in the coal mining valleys of the south – and is now as much a part of our national psyche as cricket is of India’s. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than beating the English. And if a bunch of religious extremists were to tell us that we had to stop playing rugby because it is a colonial import I like to think we’d give them pretty short shrift.

2 thoughts on “Sport and Colonialism

  1. Who was conquered by the English???

    The conquest of the Britons (including among others, the welsh) began (as you know?) with the romans two thousand years ago, and continued off and on with the saxons and the danes – that is, when the welsh were not invading danish England – or fighting among themselves (since Wales didn’t really exist as a state).

    The Normans (naturalised vikings from france) conquered the anglo-viking kings, Harald & Edgar in 1066 and continued on to invade the british lands in Wales, seizing pretty much all of it within 30 years – before losing control and starting a series of conflicts leading two hundred years later to the annexation of Wales by their descendent, the Plantagenet king Edward I – the Plantagenets being of course french (if we are talking ancestors not geography)

    Rule of the combined kingdom then passed to the welsh – in the form of Henry Tudor… and after the welsh came the stuarts – hard to tell if they were scots or french? ..and then the dutch oranges and those nice Hannoverians from central europe…

    But all of that has very little to do with either the english or the welsh at large, but chronicles the oft-times internicine power politics of a pretty unscrupulous elite of kings, princes and barons. The ‘man in the muddy track’ I would guess didn’t get a lot of say in the execution of foreign policy – though given human nature was clearly not averse to using the prevailing political climate to their own ends (i.e exploiting the weak and unempowered).

    Nationalism and Religion – the twin evils. People are individuals – and not responsible for what their forefathers did. Judging people based on nationalistic stereo-types is just as dumb as judging them on their sex or gender. People are people… while I can understand that winning cricket matches, or rugby matches, can been seen as having great political significance for some it’s really a great pity that it is so, for at the end of the day it just means that that group of guys are better at playing the sport than those other guys….. (or gals).

    No less, no more.

  2. Paul:

    A world in which human beings have no tribal instincts is an admirable goal. However, in the meantime I’d much rather have people beating each other up on rugby fields than shooting each other.

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