Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:52 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:52 | SYDNEY

Cricket no substitute for India diplomacy


Rory Medcalf


8 January 2008 11:06

The ugly aftermath of the second Test in Sydney challenges the facile claim that Australia and India have some sort of natural diplomatic synergy because both countries play cricket. I have never found this assertion especially convincing, though it has long peppered the feel-good speeches of diplomats from both sides. Democracy, maybe; the rule of law, sometimes; the English language, well, yes, depending what messages it is used to convey. But cricket? The current controversy suggests that a shared favourite sport, even if it contributes to some barely tangible sense of long-term mutual understanding, also runs the risk of creating nasty moments of discord and misunderstanding between the two societies.

Both countries can be proud to the point of stubbornness. And both have genuine blind spots about what might constitute an offence to the other’s sensibilities. Racism is hardly unknown in India, but for many Indians it is difficult to recognise this, not least because they have so often been on the receiving end of double standards. At the same time, the wounds from the Haneef case and the perception that a racial double standard was in play in that episode are still reasonably raw in India and among parts of the Indian community in Australia. And rightly or wrongly, many Indians also perceive the racism accusation against Harbhajan Singh as an extension of a particular victory-at-all-costs ruthlessness from the current Australian cricket team.

Of course, the pictures of a few angry Indian protesters burning images of Ricky Ponting and the umpires hardly amount to a breakdown in the good and broadly improving relations between the two nations and their peoples. But on top of misunderstandings about Dr Haneef and, potentially, about uranium exports, as well as concern from some quarters in India that Australia might build ties with Beijing at New Delhi’s expense, it is important that the new Australian Government follows through on its recent positive rhetoric about crafting a serious relationship with Asia’s second rising giant. The Lowy Institute has some suggestions on this front. The days of simply assuming that Australia and India could benignly neglect their public diplomacy with each other simply because ‘we have cricket’ are long gone.

Photo by Flickr user Jungle_Boy, used under a Creative Commons licence.